Sandra Peabody (born January 11, 1948) is an American script supervisor, screenwriter, producer, acting coach and former actress and model. While her acting career, on stage and film, only lasted from 1970 to 1974, she gained prominence for her role as the ill-fated Mari Collingwood in Wes Craven's debut film The Last House on the Left (1972). A cult hit, the film established her as a prominent actress in horror, and she subsequently starred in Voices of Desire (1972), Massage Parlor Murders! (1973), and Legacy of Satan (1974). Peabody's other notable role is Bird in the independent comedy film Teenage Hitchhikers (1975).
Peabody also appeared on stage, including a role as The Sun in Robert Kalfin's Off-Broadway musical revue Tarot (1970), which ran at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, followed by a supporting role as Minnie in Jay Harnick's musical comedy Annie Get Your Gun (1973–1974).
Peabody quit acting in 1974 and transitioned into screenwriting and producing with a focus on children orientated programming. She now works as an acting coach in the Los Angeles and Portland areas.
Life and career
1948–1971: Early life and career beginnings
Peabody was born on January 11, 1948 in Portland, Oregon, though she grew up in Miami, Florida where she pursued acting at a very young age. In the mid 1960s, Peabody made her debut appearance in the educational film that delved into drug abuse called Misfits. The film was produced by a company in the New York area and she got the part after one of the actresses was unable to commit to filming after becoming sick with an ailment. In the early 1970s, she was mostly cast in low-budget drive-in films that were being shot in Florida such as The Horse Killer (1970), which Peabody stated, "It was actually based on the true story of a man who castrated horses! It was a really bizarre story, but it wasn't like Last House, with sex or murder. It was more of a mystery, where these incidents were happening and they were trying to find this weird guy who was doing it. I was playing the girlfriend, and we had a lot of scenes riding horses and that sort of thing.
In 1970, Peabody had a supporting role as The Sun in Robert Kalfin's Off-Broadway production Tarot which ran at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Additionally, she began to appear on television in commercials and on the two soap operas All My Children and As the World Turns in supporting roles.
She was later cast alongside Spalding Grey and Philip Baker Hall in the 1971 film Love-In 72. Following her appearances in Miami productions, Peabody subsequently moved to New York in pursuit of more acting opportunities and for school.
1972–1975: The Last House on the Left, Annie Get Your Gun, and other roles
At 24 years old, Peabody rose to international prominence when she was cast in Wes Craven's brutal and controversial 1972 rape and revenge horror film The Last House on the Left, about two teenage girls, Mari Collingwood (played by Peabody) and Phyllis Stone (played by Lucy Grantham) who are kidnapped and brutally raped by a gang of psychotic convicts who recently escaped from prison. Returning to New York after a cross-country road trip, she was originally asked by the film makers to audition for the role of Phyllis after responding to casting notice in the trade publication Backstage. After meeting the producer Sean S. Cunningham she was chosen to play the lead, Mari. Craven stated, "I liked Sandra Peabody a lot; I thought she was very pretty, and very plucky... because she was a very young actress, she wasn't nearly as confident and easy going as Lucy was, and she had become involved in something very, very rough. And she hung in there. When the character was raped, she was treated very roughly, and I know Sandra said to me afterwards, 'My God... I had the feeling they really hated me.'" The film was a critical and commercial success, earning more than $3 million at the American box office and her performance was generally met with positive reviews. During one of the screenings for the cast, Peabody was watching the film with her mother and unhappy with what she was seeing, she ultimately walked out. Editor Stefano Lo Verme compared Peabody's performance as Mari and the trajectory of her career to the performances of Marilyn Burns as Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween (1978) and their subsequent line of work within the horror genre.
—Peabody discussing her positive experience working with Victor Hurwitz, the cinematographer of The Last House on the Left.
She later starred in Case of the Full Moon Murders (1973), which was filmed in Miami, Florida and was made by a majority of Last House's crew, being directed by producer Cunningham and starring her costar Fred J. Lincoln.
Peabody was later cast in the horror films Voices of Desire (1972), and Massage Parlor Murders! (1973), the latter being a grindhouse film that was released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2013. Her next role was Olga in the satirical exploitation film The Filthiest Show in Town (1973).
In one of her more notable roles after The Last House on the Left, Peabody starred as Minnie in the musical comedy Annie Get Your Gun, from 1973 to 1974 alongside Barbara Eden and John Bennett Perry. Jonathan Takiff of Philadelphia Daily News stated, "Clinched up in a shapeless bag of a dress, carrying on in a raggle taggle performing style, Sandra Peabody is totally believable as adolescent hick from the sticks. Which is why, obviously, she was selected for the role from a literal army of teenage competitors." While her character was written as a teenager, Peabody was 25 years old during the production and stated, "Even the director thought I was a kid, he never found out the truth until I refused to sign a contract which called for an accompanying guardian. Looking young does have it's disadvantages, when I first left school (Carnegie-Mellon, in Pittsburg) and started hitting the casting calls in New York, I couldn't get an acting jobs for characters my age. So then I got smart, and signed with a children's agent."
In 1974, Peabody had a cameo role in the horror film Legacy of Satan. The following year, Sandra starred in the comedy film Teenage Hitchhikers, which was about a couple of young hitchhikers who embark on a cross country trip in search of freedom, excitement and independence. In a review for Los Angeles Times, Linda Gross stated that Peabody's performance was "ingenious."
In a 2016 editorial for the website Birth.Movies.Death., actress Barbara Crampton noted that Peabody was one of the first actresses to be labeled as a "scream queen" due to her frequent appearances in horror films, stating:
- "The concept of shrieking damsels in distress has been around since the dawn of film, with The Perils of Pauline (1914) and Fay Wray clamoring at King Kong (1933), but it wasn’t until half a century later that the female protagonists of horror cinema were given the moniker of Scream Queen. The Last House on the Left star Sandra Peabody was one of the first actresses to have the title officially bestowed upon her after appearing in Wes Craven's 1972 classic."
After appearing in Teenage Hitchhikers, Sandra quit acting. In 1975, Peabody worked as the script supervisor for the exploitation film Video Vixens, in which she is credited for the script continuity and featured her Last House costar Steve Miner as the assistant editor.
1976–present: Writing, producing, and later career
Subsequently, Sandra began to distance herself from the exploitative films that she was becoming known for and began to transition into children's programming. In 1983, she joined Mary Lee Fones and Karen Kalergis in an effort to bring child friendly content to cable systems beyond prominent film industry locations such as Los Angeles and New York. The same year, Peabody created the half-hour children's program Get Moving. In 1990, Sandra wrote and produced the television series Where in the World. The series lasted until 1995. In 2000, David A. Szulkin interviewed Peabody for his book, Wes Craven's Last House on the Left, which tells the inside story of making the film.
In 2001, Peabody wrote and produced the educational series Zone In. She created more entries in 2007. Peabody has appeared in several critically acclaimed horror film documentaries through archive footage such as Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006) and Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010). Peabody was Alicia Lagano's acting coach and in an interview stated:
- "She was open and affected by everything, which is a great element for an actor to have, that kind of feeling and ability to relate to things and be so open at such a young age. She was willing to try everything, to throw herself on her face. Some people worry about their image and what they look like and what people will think of them. She was just so open and real."
As of 2019, Peabody is reported to be an acting coach and agent in the Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles, California areas.
Peabody graduated from Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre and studied with master acting teacher Sanford Meisner for two years. She obtained a bachelor's degree in Arts and Letters at Carnegie Mellon University. Peabody quit acting in the mid 1970s. Most of the actors that portrayed the villains in The Last House on the Left (1972) stayed in character, and it caused her to feel genuinely frightened throughout most of the shoot.
During the more violent scenes of the film, Peabody revealed that she was genuinely upset as she felt unprepared, "I was upset because I'm an emotional person, and I reacted to what was going on as if it were real. I had a really hard time with some of scenes, because I had come out of American Playhouse, where it was all about preparation, and everything had to be real. I ended up doing a horrible job in the film. I was very upset, and I felt like I should have channeled that, but I couldn't... I was a young actress and I was still learning to balance any emotions I had from outside of the film into my scene work." Peabody spent a lot of time with Craven who often encouraged her throughout filming the rougher scenes. The experience was very exploitative for the actress and the actors of the film were rather abusive towards her and insensitive to the discomfort that she felt during filming. Sandra states that although she was uncertain how a lot of the scenes would turn out, she trusted Craven and Cunningham and their vision for the film.
Marc Sheffler, who portrayed Junior Stillo, revealed in an interview that he held Peabody over a cliff and threatened to throw her off if she messed up during the next shot, stating "She wasn’t getting the scene. She wasn’t at the anxiety level that she needed to be. So, we’d done it I don’t know how many times … everybody was getting annoyed. So, I said to Wes, 'Give me a minute with her.' What I did was... you can’t see it in the shot but I took her over to the cliff, and I put her over the cliff and just grabbed her and said, ‘If you don’t get this fucking scene right now, I’m going to drop you and Wes’ll shoot it, and we’ll get a different scene, but it’ll work because you’ll be fucking mangled.”
Additionally, method actor David Hess actually threatened to assault her during a rape scene in order to get a genuine reaction and often treated her differently than the rest of the cast. Peabody recalled, "One of the characters was a method actor, so he was trying to live his part... he'd come after us with a knife at night, trying to freak us out. This was the guy with the dark curly hair [David Hess] – he tried to play his role on and off the set. It was like, 'Lock your doors and windows at night, you don't want him to come get you!' I was scared; I thought this guy had been a killer at some point in his past!" Hess revealed that he actually got very physical with her during the filming of the rape scene and that she couldn't do anything about it once the camera was running. During this particular shot, assistant director Yvonne Hannemann described it as an upsetting shoot with her having to be consoled by Craven throughout filming it due to the way she was being treated.
Peabody revealed that she felt more comfortable around Last House's cinematographer Victor Hurwitz, who she described as a "fatherly kind of guy" and stated that he is the person that encouraged her to not pursue acting as a career due to how bleak the industry was. In a retrospective interview, Hess discussed the on set relationship between him and Sandra, stating: "Sandra was an innocent and I held my character. She didn’t want to get anywhere near me."
- Szulkin, David A. (2000). Wes Craven's Last House on the Left: The Making of a Cult Classic. Surrey, England: FAB Press. ISBN 1-903254-01-9.