Susan Strasberg: Career Actor

Women in Horror for Women’s History Month 2023

Susan Strasberg’s first big break was a double whammy in the same year. She played Sue Brett in a now obscure drama titled Cobweb (1955), where she acted alongside Lillian Gish, Lauren Bacall, and Richard Widmark, and she played Millie Owen, in the classic Picnic (1955) alongside William Holden and Kim Novak.

She starred in one episode of a slew of well-known TV shows: The Invaders, Bonanza, McCloud, The Rockford Files, The Love Boat, Tales from the Darkside, Remington Steel, Murder She Wrote, and three episodes of the Night Gallery, one of which was from The Sixth Sense TV series which was incorporated into that show.

Her first true genre work and the inspiration for this article was an early Hammer thriller, Scream of Fear (1961) sometimes titled Taste of Fear. She plays wheelchair-bound Penny Appleby who returns home upon her father’s death. She keeps seeing her dead father, and with the help of the family chauffeur, Robert (Ronald Lewis) she thinks that maybe her father was murdered. Ann Todd plays Jane, the stepmother she has just met, and Christopher Lee plays her father’s friend Dr. Pierre Gerrard. Whew! Man, everything in that summary turns out to be a lie. Though British and black and white, fans of Giallos might appreciate the twists in some of these early Hammer thrillers.

We’ve barely even started looking at her major genre work. She played Sally Groves, alongside Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, and Peter Fonda, who plays her husband, in the Roger Corman-directed The Trip (1967), which was produced by American International Pictures along with the similar themed Psych-Out (1968) where she played the lead, Jenny Davis, alongside Jack Nicholson, Dean Stockwell, and Bruce Dern.

She starred in a lot of small and some still well-known small films. The Name of the Game is Kill (1968) is about a stranger meeting a family in the desert with disastrous results. She played Polly Wiltsein The Legend of Hillybilly John (1972), a giant bird movie based on the fiction of Manly Wade Wellman about an Appalachian guitarist who fights evil with a silver-stringed guitar—it sounds really good there, but please beware. She played in The Returning (1983) about two men possessed by indigenous Americans after visiting a burial ground. And she played Meg in the notorious early TV movie with Tom Hanks, Mazes and Monsters (1982).

She also starred in a movie directed by William Girdler, who died young at thirty years old, but not before he directed quite a few genre classics, including Three on a Meathook (1972), Asylum of Satan (1972), the cult classic Abby (1974), Sheba Baby (1975) with Pam Grier, Grizzly (1976), and Day of the Animals (1977). Girdler directed her in one of my favorite and one of her more well-known horror films The Manitou (1978), based on the same-titled novel from Graham Masterton. Strasbeurg played Karen Tandy in The Manitou alongside Tony Curtis, Stella Stevens, and Burgess Meredith, in which she is possessed by a four hundred year old shaman who is growing out of her back—yes, I just wrote that. This list makes up less than half of the work towards which she contributed her great talent.

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