Insidious: The Last Key is returning to UK cinemas on April 20th, so Tom Beasley took the opportunity to discuss the franchise with star Lin Shaye, as well as the opportunities for female stars today and the future of the Insidious movies…
Like any memorable horror franchise, the Insidious movies have shown remarkable staying power and considerable box office clout on relatively low budgets. At the centre of that success is Lin Shaye, who stepped forward to lead the franchise in its third installment and is back at the forefront of the narrative for fourth film The Last Key, which did solid business in cinemas at the beginning of this year.
To mark the upcoming cinema re-release of Insidious: The Last Key on April 20th, Shaye sat down with Flickering Myth to discuss the horror genre as a whole, as well as the state of play for women in modern Hollywood and the future of the Insidious franchise.
You are the main thread linking together all of the Insidious movies. What is it that keeps you coming back?
That’s a good question! [laughs] Elise is a very wonderful character and the way I have come to understand it is that part of her appeal is she’s a giver, not a taker. Right now, in particular, there’s something that’s very attractive about a person who is willing to sacrifice themselves in some ways to help other people. I think the story that Leigh Whannell wrote for this fourth one, in particular, has given Elise strength she didn’t even have before because we see her horrible beginnings and yet she came out of that, not bitter, angry and miserable, but strong and able to protect herself and others as well. So I think the appeal is that she’s a little bit of a hero.
How physically demanding is your role in these movies? Elise is always right in the thick of the action, so is that tough for you as an actress?
It’s really fun, as an actress first of all. This last one, in particular, The Last Key was a highly emotional story for my character. It had not just the physical strength that she has gratefully been able to portray in the previous films, but this took a real emotional fortitude. As an actress, I was exhausted at the end. The last day of shooting, I think I slept for a week afterwards. [laughs] It was exhausting to go to those places and invent that life for myself. I think we’ve solidified her emotional fortitude. Even though she’s a little person, because I’m kind of a little person, you still have strength to deflect negativity and bad things in your life.
Who are the actors that inspire you, both in horror and outside of it?
Oh, that’s a great question. I always think of Jack Nicholson. [laughs] I think about Jack Nicholson for many reasons, but there’s something about him. The Shining is one of my favourite films ever, in terms of horror films. His grasp of character and the boldness – especially in that film, where we see his deterioration – inspires me. He inspires me as an actor. I think he’s just a really fantastic actor and fearless. Fearless is a very important word both for Elise and for any character that you hope to play, so I’d say Jack is right up there.
It’s funny. When I think of female heroines, nobody really comes to mind. [laughs] Maybe that’s not a good thing. It’s interesting because there has been a big transition going on with what women have been allowed to play and women heroes. All of these female heroes, even Wonder Woman, are kind of silly in a way. To me, that’s not fortitude and that’s not strength. That’s movie strength. When it comes to real emotional strength, I think of some of the great, older actors. Patricia Neal was a phenomenally powerful actor, some of the Actors Studio actresses, Shelley Winters – people who really had the courage to dig deep into their emotional lives. Those are the people I look up to.
I am a member of the Actors Studio, so I was able to work with some of those people. Shelley used to moderate some of the sessions and they really were inspirational because they would give you the courage to go into your own personal life and feel comfortable expressing it.
You have been appearing in horror movies now for more than 30 years, since Alone in the Dark and Nightmare on Elm Street. What have been the main changes in the genre since then and do you think it has changed for the better?
I think the genre goes back and forth actually. There are always going to be your bloody horror films that are gruesome, with decapitations and special effects stuff. But I think real fear and real horror has not changed, in the way people experience it. What provokes it is a good story that is well-told, leading you down the garden path so that the viewer is emotionally available and then hitting them with whatever it is, whether it be emotional horror or physical horror. So I think the skill of opening up the viewer to the story is independent and down to a good filmmaker.
I don’t think that has any timeframe. You look at the old Alfred Hitchcock films like The Birds and Psycho, certainly, and you get led into these lives of these people and, suddenly, the viewer becomes the vulnerable one. I think it’s kind of timeless. The same elements hold true for earlier horror films as they do now.
With the success of films like Get Out and It, horror is having a really exciting period at the moment. Why do you think the genre is so popular right now?
I think people are full of fear right now. We’re in a very dangerous time in the world and it causes me great sadness actually. We have done a lot of destructive things that are irreparable, physically, to our planet and I think that gives people an overwhelming sense of ennui that fills all of us. We are confronted by it on a daily basis in some way. So I think people will always be attracted to this genre. Get Out was also a powerful commentary on racism, even though it was subliminal within it. The Last Key is confronting child abuse, which is prevalent, and people don’t discuss it. People are abused in all kinds of ways. It doesn’t have to be physical. I think touching on those topics is timeless.
I think right now, we are at a real impasse and I really hope things get better. I hope so, because they’ve gotten worse.
This film brings the Insidious story full circle. Are you aware of plans for a sequel and will you return?
Yes. [laughs] I would always return. That’s a given. There’s no story that has been fleshed out yet, but financially the movie has done quite well and that’s a big element in terms of sequels and the companies that make them. I think there are other stories to be told. I think Elise’s human story has pretty much been wrapped up in this last chapter, but I am in The Further in the second movie, so I guess there’s room for me to expand in The Further. There are some wonderful characters that are in all four installments and possibly some of them would come back. I honestly don’t know. It’s all up to Leigh Whannell and Jason Blum.
If there is another Insidious film, is there a particular director you would love to make it?
Not really. Adam Robitel did a wonderful job coming in to a well-established franchise. James Wan is brilliant. All three directors have been brilliant in different ways. I like to call James the cinephile of the three. He knows exactly the shots he wants and he’s very visual. Actually, when we shot the first one, the biggest discussions we had in terms of the acting itself were about establishing The Further because it was the first time we were building that world. Leigh Whannell is an actor as well as a director and writer, so he approached things much more viscerally. Stefanie Scott [in the third film] was given assignments to write a journal and he really tried to help her find the interior of the character.
I’d be happy if any of the three came back, of course, and then who knows who else is out there? Bringing in a new director is always exciting because there’s a new element of the team and yet, coming into a franchise, you have a responsibility to fulfill certain goals of the storyline. I am open. Whatever they want, I will try to give it to them. [laughs]
Thank you so much, Lin.
Thank you! They were lovely questions and it was a pleasure to talk to you.
And here’s an exclusive greeting from Lin Shaye, who has a message for Flickering Myth readers…
Insidious: The Last Key is returning to UK cinemas on 20th April.
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.