Interview: Lin Shaye on ‘Abattoir’ and Her Career as a Horror Icon

Andrew Hawkins

Abattoir is a dark and gritty thriller featuring an always fantastic performance from horror and genre icon Lin Shaye.

Lin Shaye is one of the best there is. Everything from her minor roles in classic horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street to the massively popular Insidious series is worth watching because of her. She is a genre titan appearing in over four decades worth of movies. Even her roles in the Farrelly brothers’ comedies are memorable, and no one who listened to rock music in the 90s could ever forget the mother from Hell she played in the cult classic Detroit Rock City.

Abattoir is the newest horror film from Saw II, III and IV director Darren Lynn Bousman. The film stars Jessica Lowndes and Joe Anderson as two characters caught up in a disturbing mystery where crime scenes disappear from houses like jigsaw puzzles. The film is dark and disturbing in places and becomes more strange and surreal as the story unravels. Abattoir is currently in theaters and available on VOD and Digital HD.

Fandom: How would you describe Abattoir?

Lin Shaye: Well, it is a “haunted house” movie but it’s a different kind of haunted house than you would ever expect. It’ got a little bit of a film noir feel to it. The main characters Julia and Declan, who is the detective that Joe Anderson plays, have sort of an old-fashioned feel to them which leads you into the mystery of this journey.

They discover that there are crime scenes that happen and the scenes get cut out of the house they happen in. What happens to those rooms is what the story is about; finding the place where all these rooms end up. It has a slightly metaphysical feel to it but it’s got a gritty, scary, mysterious story that unfolds with very fascinating characters.

Fandom: Let’s talk about your role. Allie is a very complex figure who we learn a lot about as the film goes on. How did you approach playing such an interesting role?

Lin Shaye: When I read the script she was my favorite character. She’s like a storyteller. She’s the jester in the corner like when you go back to Shakespeare, the truth teller. All the characters around her are doing their thing and she’s the one who knows more answers than almost anyone else in the story.

Developing the look of the character became very important to me. This kind of out of touch town that she lives in has kind of got a 30s, 40s and 50s feel to it; it spans decades in a way. Even she spans decades which you find out and has a lot of secrets to reveal about her life before and what has happened in this town.

There was a poetry to the way she speaks and in one draft they had sort of taken out her flavor. They had left the information of what she’s explaining, but they had taken out the poetry. I begged Darren Lynn Bousman to put that back in because I thought it was the strength of her character for me.

I think you love her in a way. You’re a little fearful of her because she’s somewhat mysterious, and then you find out more. She goes through a whole world of secrets about herself as well as explaining about the town. It was a very complex character to find and the kind of secret I have with Julia about who she really is; that was something we added in. It was a very fun character to play.

Fandom: You mentioned that your character spans decades. You’ve had a lifetime career playing roles in some of our favorite horror movies and comedies. Tell us about your career and your legacy.

Lin Shaye: I love acting. I never thought about being an actress in movies or being on film. For as far back as I can think, as a little girl I used to take all my clothes out of my closet and make up stories. I had my stuffed animals and my dolls, and my mom used to come in and say, “You gotta put everything back in the closet.”

I always wanted to make up stories. Whatever that is, whether it’s on a molecular level that I have no control over, I was always an actress. I didn’t even know it had a title. In school I wanted to be in the play and I wanted to be that character. It was always about wanting to be a little bit of somebody else.

I was an Art History major at the University of Michigan and when I finished college I got my first job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I was miserable. I thought, “When am I gonna get to be in a play?” Suddenly at 21 years old I thought, “I think there is a name for what it is I wanna do.” (laughs) I ended up going back to theater school at Columbia University for acting. There I was able to satisfy my extreme desire to be a storyteller.

I see life with a somewhat comedic point of view. I think we’re all a bunch of buffoons on some level. (laughs) No matter how serious it is, there does always seem to be an element of comedy and I hope truthfulness in the characters I get to play no matter how extreme they are. And maybe that’s what people respond to is the humanity that I’m able to shake in terms of the people I play.

I love playing somebody else. I actually had a little part as Billy Ray Cyrus’ mother in this series for CMT called Still the King and I play a trucker. I had so much fun. I put on a fat pad and had a real thick accent, and I just loved pouring myself into that and totally forgetting who Lin Shaye was y’know. I guess it’s a combination of wanting to lose yourself and wanting to see what other people might feel like and the desire to be a storyteller.

I don’t know who I am, but I’m a humanist for sure. I’m a huge animal person cause I love instinct and being able to react to life in an honest way. I think animals do that better than people to be honest because they’re not programmed. So, I try to get rid of my programming and enter the world I’m put in and that’s really exciting for me.

Fandom: Is there anything that you are a fan of that you’d like to share?

Lin Shaye: Well what stands out for me right now is my son’s music. He’s in a phenomenal band called Wand. I loved music mostly in the 60s believe it or not. All the rock bands, I was a huge fan of Big Brother and the Holding Company and I loved rock and hard rock. When my son was growing up he took me through Wilco and all of that group of musicians. It was music that sort of came off of Bob Dylan and being storytellers with the lyrics and feel of the music.

Now I’m really sort of reentering the hipster world with Wand. My son also does his own music called Oil Thief which is all synthesizer, computer and throat singing. It’s moody and takes you on a journey. Of course I love movies, but I’ve been into music lately partly because I’ve been drawn back into it because of my family.

I love all artists whatever they do. To be able to express yourself in this crazy world and to tell the truth I what fascinates me. Music, dance, theater, film, poetry or just talking is all to me just part of the same thing. So, long may we all wave and express ourselves honestly.

Andrew Hawkins
Andrew Hawkins is a fan contributor at Fandom. He has been on the fan media scene since 2011. Arriving at Fandom by way of CHUD and GUY.com; Andrew loves Sci-Fi Horror movies and supervillains. His dislikes include jargon and presumption.
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