Wednesday, February 27, 2013


In the summer of 1973, William Freidkin's The Exorcist was unleashed to theaters and onto the general public.  The subsequent storm of publicity, controversy, and ticket sales resulted in Oscar nominations and recognition as one of the biggest films of the year.  It didn't hurt that is was also pretty damn scary.  The popularity of the film of course meant one thing:  knockoffs.

They came from around the globe, Turkey (Seytan), Italy (Beyond the Door), Spain (The Possessed), and Mexico (Alucarda), but right here in America we had one of the more infamous Exorcist knockoffs, if only for the resulting lawsuit.  Released in 1974 (on Christmas Day, no less), Abby is a possession film that supposes one thing differently than The Exorcist:  what if it happened to black people instead?  Ostensibly remaking The Exorcist as a blaxploitation film (an early working title for the film was The Blackorcist, I shit you not), Abby is a shameless attempt at cashing in on the success of Friedkin's film.  It's not a very good movie, but I'm going to talk about it anyway.

After a fairly static, expository opening scene (set in a very nice city park) the film flashes to Egypt, where Bishop Garnet Williams (William Marshall) is on an archeologic dig searching for information on the God Eshu.  Uncovering an old dusty idol, Bishop Williams accidentally unleashes the evil spirit of Eshu into the world.  The spirit manifests itself as a wind storm, blowing shit around and knocking people down as it escapes the cave.  Halfway across the world, the Bishop's son, Rev. Emmett Williams (Terry Carter) and his wife Abby (Carol Speed) are moving into their new home.  It's not long before that evil wind blows into the house, resulting in the spirit of Eshu possessing Abby.

Soon after, she is speaking in a lower octave, trying to cut herself with a knife, levitating off the floor, getting the crazy eye, and she even throws a guy through a door before she spits up foamy vomit on him.  Of course, this all plays second fiddle to the major change in Abby:  her sexual appetite.  It seems the evil deity of Eshu is a sex God, manifesting itself in Abby and turning her into a nymphomaniac.  This is a major problem for a preacher's wife.

Witnessing his wife trying to hump anything that moves (while speaking in a voice 3 pitches lower), the Reverend does two things:   inquire about her drug history to her brother, detective Cass Potter (Austin Stoker), and take her to the hospital where doctors run a bunch of tests on her.  She has no history with drugs and medically she's completely normal, but Abby gets all freaky when he takes her home to recover and she kills an elderly caretaker by giving her a heart attack.  After that, Abby escapes, and her husband, her brother, and the just-returned-from-Egypt Bishop Williams have to track her down and try to exorcise the demon.

Abby, being the horny demon she is, heads out to a local club, looking for some action.  First she picks up a guy and takes him out to his car to have sex, which of course gets a bit freaky (smoke starts pouring from the car interior, as (off-screen) the guy screams).  Abby then goes back inside and starts dancing and grooving with a pair of hip, tough-looking studs, but after her husband and brother show up, Abby starts throwing people all over the bar, over tables, and smashing the place up, before the Bishop appears and starts the exorcism process with the help of the Reverend and the detective.

Doning some ceremonial robes and engaging in verbal combat with the demon, the Bishop believes he is not actually dealing with the God Eshu, but rather a wannabe demon.  Whether this is the case or not, the movie sort of leaves ambivalent, but either way, after some levitation and some speaking-in-tongues (not to mention some real cheesy special effects), they eventually drive the demon out of Abby and send it back into the idol that it had originally escaped.

Like I said above, I don't consider this a good movie, even by exploitation standards.  Overall, the acting is okay, everyone seems to take it seriously, despite all the ridiculousness.  The story doesn't quite make sense, like how or why the demon flies from Egypt all the way to America just to possess Abby, or why her husband is such a bonehead.  The special effects are goofy, there's no real shocks or scares (no head-spinning), and the print of the movie is really rough looking, with the colors all washed out and muddy, not to mention the heavy amount of film scratches.

Abby does some wholesale lifting from The Exorcist by setting the opening in Egypt, emphasizing the power of faith, showing the befuddlement of the doctors, using levitation, vomit, and colorful language (she says "fuck" a lot), and by having subliminal flashes of the demon's face, which should be scary, but it unfortunately it looks like this:

What do you expect from a movie made for less than $200,000??  More silly than anything, Abby would still go on to be a minor hit, but it was pulled from theaters as Warner Bros. (owners of The Exorcist) sued (and won), claiming copyright infringement.  The WB took almost all of the profits from the film (close to $4 million) and the producers and writer/director William Girdler never saw a dime of money from the film.  (In this day and age, a lawsuit like that would never fly, or there wouldn't be half of the movies out on the direct-to-video market like there are).

Carol Speed would get the lead role in Abby after the original actress dropped out when her demands of an on-set masseuse were not met.  Speed would write and perform a song in the movie, "Is Your Soul a Witness?"  She also starred in Jack Hill's The Big Bird Cage (1972), The MackSavage! (both 1973), Black Samson (1974), and (one of my favorites) Rudy Ray Moore's Disco Godfather (1979).  If interested, you can read a good interview with her on the making of Abby over on her website HERE.

The same year as Abby, Terry Carter was also in the blaxploitation classic Foxy Brown.  Austin Stoker would also star in Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) and John Carpenter's amazing Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), as well as William Girdler's other two blaxploitation pictures: The Zebra Killer (aka The Get-Man, 1974) and Sheba, Baby (1975) with Pam Grier.

William Marshall was very vocal about his unhappiness with the production of Abby, as he was promised script revisions that never occurred.  He did however alter his own dialogue, adding much of the content in regards to the Yoruba religion of West Africa.  Marshall is best known today for two things: his titular role in Blacula (1972) and it's sequel, Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973) and as the beloved King of Cartoons on television's Pee-wee's Playhouse.

Director William Girdler was an expert exploitation filmmaker, making nine films in seven years, in genres like action, blaxploitation, and horror.  Some have called him the "king of the ripoffs," namely because of Abby and his 1976 film Grizzly, which is essentially "Jaws with claws." Such labels can be rather dismissive of the man and his work, and while the quality of his films may vary at best, his movies always deliver in the areas of excitement and "oh-shit-did-I-just-see-that?".  Even Abby, which is a lesser work for sure, still has a certain watchability just because it's unlike anything else you've seen.

Unless you've seen The Exorcist...

"Damn, Abby.  You crazy."

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