Horror Movie News and Reviews

Lin Shaye: A Master Class in Acting from the Godmother of Horror

Let’s Play – Short Horror Film of The Month

Horror fans rejoice!  Today is the birthday of Miss Lin Shaye!  It ought to be a national holiday or something, right?

She’s young-enough-to-kick-your-ass and old-enough-to-get-away-with-it years old and in many ways is the gold standard in horror acting.  Simultaneously a breathtaking leading lady and a character actress who can disappear into any role, it’s no wonder that Shaye was proclaimed the Godmother of Horror by Wizard World Comic Con in Philadelphia back in 2015.

Few titles have been more deserved and on her birthday it’s the perfect time to take a trek down memory lane through the roles she brought to life that carved out that reputation.

Without further ado, let’s go way back to the year 1984!

English Teacher in A Nightmare on Elm Street

It takes a lot to stand out in a film where a man covered in burn scars is stalking and killing teenagers in their nightmares.  And yet, by her own admission, there are people who still approach Miss Shaye to this day for her role in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.

It’s a pretty phenomenal feat considering she’s only on screen for about two minutes.  Yet, that two minutes established a lot about that teacher’s character.  She showed more nurturing in placing that hand on Nancy’s shoulder than either of the girl’s parents expressed in the rest of the film.  Take a look and see!

Sally in Critters and Critters 2

Another small(ish) role, though the part was expanded in the second film, Sally was funny, charming, and had problems distinguishing reality from fiction where tabloids were concerned.  Her red hair and redder lips just added to her unforgettable image in this ultimate 80s creature feature.  Shaye’s work as Sally proved she could work a scene inside and out, pulling or sharing focus depending on what was needed.

Laura Harrington in Dead End

Those small roles lead to larger roles as people began to take notice of the real talent that was Lin Shaye.  She stole the show in There’s Something About Mary and Kingpin, and before long she found herself starring in Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa’s 2003 horror farce Dead End.  She played Laura Harringon, a mother trying to hold her family together on a holiday trip.  Watching Shaye spin out of control from the caring mother to the maniacal woman in the midst of a breakdown was glorious.  I don’t think I’ll ever get the image of her eating that whole pie with her hands out of my head!

If you’ve never seen it, add it to your list of must see films.  The brilliant ensemble, that also includes Ray Wise, is a holiday favorite in my house and it should be in yours as well.  Take a look at the trailer below for a few glimpses of Shaye’s brilliant performance.

Granny Boone in 2001 Maniacs and 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams

Whether she was calling a seriously messed up square dance or reminding people of their manners at the dinner table, Granny Boone was not to be messed with.  Shaye approached this film, a remake of the H.G. Lewis splatterfest co-starring Robert Englund, with gusto and embraced the carnage of it all with glee.  She completely gives herself over to it.  It was no surprise when she came back for the sequel.  It just wouldn’t have been the same without her…

Elise Rainier in Insidious Chapters 1-4 and beyond!

OK, so maybe the “and beyond” is totally wishful thinking, but you’ll have to forgive me because I don’t ever want this series to end.  Miss Shaye was so compelling in the role of psychic medium Elise Rainier that she soon found the franchise being crafted around that role, even though she ostensibly died in the first film.  The solution?  Start moving backward in time to show us who Elise was and how she came to be the lady we met in that film.  In Shaye’s hands, Elise became a compassionate, powerful woman who could be genuinely vulnerable and tough as nails seemingly simultaneously.  And no one, and I mean no one, emotes terror the way that Lin does in these films.  When her breath and voice become shaky, I immediately begin to tense up even after multiple viewings.

Paulina Zander in Ouija

Oft maligned, Ouija centers on a group of teenagers who find themselves haunted by spirits after playing with a cursed Ouija board.  As they go looking for answers, the heroine tracks down a former resident of the home where the board was found, but Paulina isn’t exactly what she seems to be?  Shaye was wonderful in a role that could have easily been a caricature.  She projected absolute sincerity, even in her nefariousness.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look.

.Teresa in Jack Goes Home

If, by now, anyone ever doubted that Shaye was a serious actress with serious skills, they should sit down and watch Jack Goes Home.  When Jack returns home after an accident that killed his father and seriously injured his mother, he finds himself confronting issues he thought he’d left behind long ago.  Shaye plays Jack’s mother in a stunning performance turning from nurturing to abusive and back again in the blink of an eye.  In short, she is brilliant.  Every action and reaction is perfectly placed and timed.

Allie in Abattoir

What can I say about Lin Shaye in Abattoir?  In the film, someone is stealing the rooms where murders have taken place.  A young woman named Julia goes in search of who could be taking the rooms and what they could be using them for, and in the course of her investigation, she meets Allie.  Allie seems to hold the answers to all of Julia’s question, but giving up those secrets isn’t as easy as either would like.  Shaye gives yet another layered performance that walks a razor thin line between sanity and insanity, and she does it so well!  The film is terrifying and Shaye’s performance enhances every moment.  If you haven’t seen it, you must!

Well, there they are.  Just a few of the roles that proved Lin Shaye was the legend she’s been proclaimed.  She is a consummate actress, regardless of genre (anyone who’s ever seen Sedona or Detroit Rock City knows what I mean), but she will always be our Godmother of Horror.

Featured Image by Richard Perry/New York Times