The year was 1984. A Nightmare on Elm Street, directed by Wes Craven, was released in theaters and took the horror genre by storm. Heather Langenkamp was the new scream queen and Robert Englund was the knife-handed, nightmare-inducing horror villain for a new generation. But there was an unknown talent hiding within the role of the ‘teacher’ in the film, and she would go on to have a career and legacy that would reach every corner of the film world. That hidden talent was Lin Shaye. Before she was crowned the ‘Godmother of Horror’ by Wizard World Comic Con in Philadelphia, Lin Shaye played the small role of the receptionist in another 1980s slasher, Alone in the Dark (1982) prior to becoming the teacher in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and would go on to have many other iconic roles that made her a household horror icon.
“Lin’s legacy in films of all genres make her queen of the movie scene, and her unparalleled, haunting performances in so many movies, especially the Insidious franchise, make her the obvious and deserved choice for the Godmother of Horror Award.”– Wizard World Spokesperson Jerry Milani
Born in 1943 in Detroit, Michigan, Lin Shaye began her acting career in 1975 when she debuted in her first small role in a feature film called Hester Street. She made appearances in the popular television show The Twilight Zone, and after more small feature film and television film roles, Shaye began starring in popular comedy films like Dumb and Dumber (1994), Kingpin (1996) and There’s Something About Mary (1998). However, Shaye found her way back into the horror genre with her 2003 French horror film Dead End. The film is a perfectly crafted cocktail of witty hilarity and spine-tingling horror about a family on a road trip for the holidays. When the father decides to take a short cut, they find themselves stuck on a never-ending road with horror lurking after every mile. Shaye plays the mother, Laura, and although the film is not her most popular, it is her first performance in the horror genre that truly captured her knack for fear. Shaye shines in her role, and it earned her a nomination for the Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Supporting Actress.
After appearing in other horror films, such as Snakes on a Plane (2006) and 2001 Maniacs (2005), Shaye took on her most iconic role to date; if you don’t know Shaye from her other roles, then you will know her as Elise from Insidious (2010), where she delivers a terrifyingly magnetic performance. Insidious is a horror film that changed the entire genre forever as it revamped campiness and really dug its heels into sheer, unadulterated fear. Even as a PG-13 film, it remains as one of the scariest American horror films to date. The film’s stars went on to play other iconic roles, such as Patrick Wilson as Orm Marius in Aquaman (2018) and Ty Simpkins as Gray Mitchell in Jurassic World (2015), yet Shaye solidified herself alongside other legendary scream queens, such as Jamie Lee Curtis and Shelley Duvall, in the horror hall-of-fame in this horror hit.
Elise is a medium who is invited into the home of the Lamberts after they start paranormal entities infiltrate their home and seemingly attack their comatose son. Elise is more notable than any other medium brought into a film because of her less-than-conventional ways of speaking to the dead. She is brought to life by Shaye’s controlled performance, with her eyes staring right through the screen and piercing the audience. She somehow knows how to instil fear into her viewers through her physicality, yet also calm you with her welcoming smile and soft voice. Her performance garnered her first ever win for the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards as well as nominations for Saturn Awards and Fright Meter Awards. Shaye would go on to star as Elise in three more instalments of the Insidious franchise, always leading the films with a force of emotion and gaining praise from critics for every performance.
Shaye has come a long way from being a nameless teacher in one of her first horror roles. She is now Elise, the ‘Godmother of Horror,’ and a staple in modern scary movies. Shaye is a master of human emotion, being the gold-standard in horror performances and a rock-star in classic comedy films. She has gone on to star in other iconic franchises like Ouija, and the 2020 release of The Grudge. As horror fans around the world get together every year and watch brand new and old releases, they are either being introduced to or relishing in the legendary career of Lin Shaye, and appreciating the craft she has honed, the emotions she pulls out of you, and the screams she has mastered.
“This is the best time of my life. I’m still filled with joy at what has come before this, and what’s now, and really what the future might bring. I’m never gonna quit, never gonna stop. I want to keep being other people.”– Lin Shaye