When it comes to Scream Queens, this woman has what it takes. Her filmography rivals the best in the business and when she takes to the screen, you can’t keep your eyes off her. Whether she’s a despicable hillbilly with a flare for cooking human flesh, or a kind hearted woman with the ability to communicate with the dead, Lin Shaye proudly wears the horror genre’s badge with pride.
Born October 12th, 1943 in Detroit, Michigan, Lin grew up in a Jewish household. Her father owned a supermarket but was also a painter by trade, while her mother stayed home to raise both her and her brother, Robert, who would later go on to be a successful film executive and the co-founder of New Line Cinema.
She studied at the University of Michigan before moving to New York and taking part in numerous off Broadway productions.
In 1977, Lin packs her bags for Los Angeles in hopes of further pursuing her acting career. Her career would begin with small appearances on TV shows and TV movies. Prior to the move from New York to Los Angeles, Lin got a taste for film in 1975 with a small part in Hester Street.
Her first tentative steps into the horror world began in 1982 with a small role in the film Alone In The Dark. Co-staring alongside actors like Jack Palance and Donald Pleasence, Lin played a receptionist. A small role but well played one.
In 1984, her brother Robert took a chance on a Wes Craven script and co-created New Line Cinema. That little script turned out to be A Nightmare On Elm Street in which Lin had a brief role as Nancy’s teacher.
After many years of simple, small roles, Lin would finally show what she’s made of again another Scream Queen, Dee Wallace, in 1986’s Critters. Got to admit, I love Critters, even if I haven’t seen it for a few years. It’s one of those campy, cheesy films that always leaves a smile on your face. If you haven’t seen it, do yourselves a favour and pick up a copy. If nothing else, I’m sure you’ll get a chuckle out of it.
An alien parasite with the ability to possess human bodies goes on a violent crime spree in LA, pursued by a human cop and an alien cop inhabiting a human body sounds more like a subplot to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers but in actuality, it’s the storyline of The Hidden (1987). This Action/Crime/Horror film has its haters (don’t most movies?) but I actually enjoy it. It’s thought-provoking and quite surprising the first time around. It could have been a typical ‘gimmick’ sci-fi movie, but instead it handled itself in a manner which I didn’t expect. Definitely a top five contender, The Hidden will leave you on the edge of your seat. Vastly underrated film.
A sequel to Critters emerged in 1988 and once again Lin was called upon to play the role of Sally. It’s not very often I say a sequel can surpass the original but I found Critters 2 to be more entertaining that the first. You can get the series in a box set now and no horror collection is complete without them.
Moving into the early 90’s, the horror genre called again. This time Lin found herself taking on one of the many sequels to the Amityville Horror entitled Amityville: A New Generation. Not the greatest in the series, but certainly not the worst, this film did have potential. Sadly, like most sequels it fell short of what it could do.
The following year Lin found herself returning to Elm Street in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Like with the original movie, she had a very blink and you’ll miss it role, but the fact that she makes the credits is enough for me to talk about this film. By far one of my favourites in the Nightmare series, New Nightmare explored what would happen if Freddy was unleashed on the real world. If you haven’t seen it, you must. Freddy returns to being scary.
It’s not just horror that catches Lin’s eye. She’s also appeared in many thrillers which certainly have their horrific moments. 1995’s Sketch Artist II: Hands That See is one of them. Not a stellar movie, but it’s worth the watch. Nature Of The Beast, out that same year, certainly contained more of a horror element and is a Victor Salva movie. Now, I’m not going to get into politics on his person, but I will say he’s a hell of a film maker. Lin teamed up with future Horror Icon Spotlight stealer, Lance Henriksen (keep your eyes peeled for that one) as well as Eric Roberts. The storyline is “Two men, both hiding a deadly secret, are on a murderous rampage through the desert.” Doesn’t sound too exciting but when you add in the fact that there’s a serial killer known as “The Hatchet Man” roaming around and seeming to strike within the same vicinity as these men, you become a little creeped out. (Fun Fact: Victor Salva actually plays a customer at the start of the movie. You can see him walk past Lance Henriksen in the diner)
Lin also dabbles in comedy, including teaming up with Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber as well as Me, Myself & Irene (though her scenes were deleted from the film) and a rather naughty appearance in There’s Something About Mary. Yes, that’s right. Lin got her breasts out to play Magda in There’s Something About Mary.
Lin would team up with fellow Horror Icon Jeffrey Combs in 2002’s Contagion. Not an overly great movie, though it did have some perks, this film focus’ around what would happen if the President of the United States is hit with a dart that is filled with a contagious disease and is rushed to a hospital to be put into quarantine. It’s great background noise but at least watch it once before you decide to leave the room to finish the dishes.
The following year Lin found herself in the horror genre again. Dead End is about Frank Harrington who, for the past 20 years, has begrudgingly driven his family to celebrate Christmas with his mother-in-law. This year, he takes a shortcut. It's the biggest mistake of his life: The nightmare begins. A mysterious woman in white wanders through the forest, leaving death in her wake. A terrifying black car - its driver invisible - carries the victims into the heart of the night. Every road sign points to a destination they never reach. The survivors succumb to panic, to madness; deeply buried secrets burst to the surface, and Christmas turns into a living hell. It is well worth the watch so if you can find this little gem, I highly recommend it. Lin is superb as Laura Harrington.
The horror genre wouldn’t call again until 2004 and this time the horror would be real. Taking on the true event story of The Hillside Strangler, Lin found herself bringing the story of a sadistic killer to the big screen.
Like all movies that clam based on true events, this film doesn’t quite follow the actual storyline of the strangler, though it’s one of the better adaptations I’ve seen. If you like true crime, pick it up.
In 2005 Lin headed back to civil war times to play Granny Boone in Tim Sullivan’s 2001 Manics. Teaming up with Horror Icon Robert Englund, Lin held her own and showed just how fierce she can be. She certainly cooked up a storm when college students, who were travelling to Daytona for Spring Break, stumble into Pleasant Valley.
It’s campy fun (the sequel is pretty awesome too) and there are some genuine moments where you’ll be fist pumping as the folks of Pleasant Valley take care of these northerners to prove that the south will rise again.
Hood of Horror called for Lin and she replied with a resounding yes in 2006. Great background noise, but if you haven’t seen it, you haven’t missed much. In the same year Lin found herself on a plane filled with snakes. Again, you can skip this film. If you’re a fan of snakes, Samuel L. Jackson or planes, you may enjoy it. Just know that the word “motherfucker” doesn’t appear until almost the end.
Between 2006 and 2010 Lin appeared in numerous films. But it was 2010’s Insidious that showed us what she was truly made off. Lin played the role of Elise Rainier and won two 2011 Fright Meter Awards for her efforts.
I have to say I loved Insidious and I think it was Lin’s best work to date. I don’t believe in the supernatural or spirit world, but this film made me question if spirits of people are trapped on this Earth. A great escape film that will give you chills, even if you’re a non-believer (Fun Fact: The mask Elise puts on to enter the world of dreams is the same mask used by the Sandman, the master of dreams, in the comic book series of the same name, created by Neil Gaiman).
In 2013, Lin would reprise her role as Elise twice. First appearing in the TV series short Insidious: Spectral Sightings, then again in the follow up sequel Insidious: Chapter Two.
I know a lot of people panned Insidious: Chapter Two but I quite enjoyed it. I didn’t think it lived up to the original film but I did think it was a worthy sequel. In fact, I jumped more times in the sequel than I did with the first film. I do recommend getting it. Even if you don’t enjoy as much, at least you’ve got it for your collection.
In 2014, Lin starred in two sci-fi/thriller movies. The Signal and Lost Time. Lost Time you can give a miss too, but The Signal is a must watch film. I can’t give too much away about it for fear of ruining it or giving you the wrong impression, but it’s worth the watch. It’s a wonderful piece of originality that seems to be lacking in modern film.
Ouija was another 2014 film that gave Lin another leap into the horror world. While not hugely popular, Ouija did have its moments and I found it to be a fun film that you can leave on and just use as a distraction from everyday life.
Lin has plenty more movies currently in the works. I’m personally looking forward to getting my hands on Bayou Tales, Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves, Sick People, and of course, the highly anticipated Insidious III.
Lin Shaye is an accomplished actress with many fantastic movies under her belt, both within the horror genre and out of. Her abilities to have you sitting on the edge of your seat in complete awe is the mark of a truly great actress. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for her. If it’s anything like her filmography, it’s going to be a real scream.