Kansan Dee Wallace rose out of the ashes of an extremely difficult childhood that included paternal abuse and a suicide to establish a resonantly successful movie career as a character actress. Born Deanna Bowers, Wallace attended the University of Kansas in the late '60s as an education major, then turned to dancing and drama, at least partially as an escape from her torturous familial history. Radiating a cornflower-wholesome, Middle-American goodness, Wallace often played against that image, tackling parts and films that exposed a darker side of domestic life. On that note, she began to specialize in horror roles, and landed one of the most memorable for quite some time: that of Lynne Wood, the mother of an itinerant family that falls prey to a band of mutant desert-dwelling cannibals, in Wes Craven's controversial gore-fest The Hills Have Eyes (1977).
Another lurid role, albeit a much less extreme one -- Wallace's portrayal of a prostitute in a 1978 episode of Lou Grant -- caught the attention of white-hot director Steven Spielberg, who would eventually seek an actress to portray Mary, the colorful divorcée mother of Elliott (Henry Thomas) in his box-office phenomenon E.T. (1982). In the meantime, however, Wallace achieved fame independently of Spielberg and his team with another legendary part: that of Karen White, a sexy blonde TV newscaster who gets more than she bargained for when she heads off to a California retreat, in Joe Dante's ghoulish, werewolf-themed horror comedy The Howling. After E.T., Wallace's popularity soared; she followed it up with a contribution to the Stephen King horror vehicle Cujo (1983), as a mother terrorized relentlessly by a monstrous, rabid Saint Bernard.
Unfortunately -- and for unknown reasons -- Wallace's career languished for much of the 1980s and '90s, in forgettable potboilers and programmers ranging from Critters (1986) to Popcorn (1990) to Alligator 2: The Mutation (1990). Occasionally, she signed to work with directors who wanted to trade on her status as a terror icon, such as Peter Jackson, with his 1996 horror comedy The Frighteners. In fact, this is exactly what happened when Rob Zombie tapped Wallace to play Laurie Strode's mother in his violent 2007 remake of Halloween.