“…the story of a woman possessed!”
Director: William Girdler
Cast: Carol Speed, William Marshall, Terry Carter
Synopsis: A possession film about a marriage counselor who becomes possessed by a Demon of Sexuality, when her father in law, an Exorcist, freed it while in Africa.
Blaxploitation horror movie Abby was a big hit when released in 1974, but it was pulled from distribution following a lawsuit from Warners, who claimed it was a rip-off of its 1973 spectacular The Exorcist. Abby is very similar to that movie, although there are enough variations from the plot of The Exorcist to make you think Warners’ case was fairly shaky. There are plenty of movies made since that bear closer resemblance to it which were left alone by Warners, which makes it look as though they were just miffed at all the money AIP were making from Abby.
The story opens with Bishop Garnet Williams (William Marshall) embarking on an expedition to Africa to research the demon Eshu, ‘a trickster, creator of whirlwinds, chaos.’ While exploring a cave, the Bishop finds an ebony box engraved with the symbols that represent Eshu and foolishly opens it, releasing the demon, who’s just a little ticked off at having been locked in a box for who knows how long. Meanwhile, back in the States, the Bishop’s son, the Rev. Emmett Williams (Terry Carter) and his young wife Abby (Carol Speed) are moving into a new home paid for by the church. They’re helped by Abby’s mum (Juanita Moore) and brother (Austin Stoker), a police detective, who make up a family unit that’s just too wholesome and happy to be left alone for long. Seriously, this is one squeaky-clean family, and Abby, a tee-total church choir member who has just qualified as a marriage counsellor, is really too good to be true; horror movie lore dictates that such a clean-living person cannot be left untouched for long before some horrific other-worldly fate befalls them.
Sure enough, it’s not long before strange things begin happening around the house. Emmett’s woken up by noises in the middle of the night, but is distracted from his concern by his sleepy wife’s sudden desire for sex; then Abby finds herself locked in the basement while a gale force wind blows through it. Worst of all, she’s then sexually abused in the shower by a shadowy demon with a huge, erect phallus.
Of course, it’s not long before Abby starts acting strangely after that encounter. First of all, cutting up chickens seems to bring on some lip-licking erotic episode that ends with her cutting herself in the arm; then she begins loudly choking in church while hubbie’s giving his service, and throws up over some poor member of the clergy who will suffer an even more unsavoury fate later on in the picture. Shortly after that, Abbie viciously kicks poor old Emmett in the family jewels when he shows up in the bedroom wearing what looks like a large handkerchief around his midriff and ready for lurrrvvvve. Understandably, that’s when Emmett starts growing a little worried about Abby’s increasingly bizarre behaviour and calls his father, who’s still in Africa, and asks him to come home.
The obvious difference between Abby and The Exorcist — and presumably the reason AIP’s lawyers felt it would be safe to go ahead and make the movie — is that the subject of possession here is a grown woman, while Regan in The Exorcist was a pre-pubescent girl. Abby’s possession is of a sexual nature which sees her targeting unwary men, presumably with the intention of claiming their souls for Eshu (or his boss). We only see one of these poor souls — who just happens to be that member of Emmett’s church over whom Abby earlier threw up — meeting their fate (‘Jesus’ he exclaims, as Abby climbs off him, to which she peevishly replies ‘Do you have to be so damn religious about everything?’) and, to be honest we don’t really see a lot even then, just a lot of smoke billowing around the car in which they’ve just mated. In fact, the horror element of Abby is pretty tame, with most of the possession incidents involving Abby speaking in a deep voice and swearing a lot, or issuing a throaty laugh which then echoes electronically as a transition device between scenes.
But time has been kind to Abby in that the garish fashions and frightening hair-dos at least make it fun to watch. The storyline moves along at a fair old pace, and the performances are reasonably good for a cheap Blaxploitation flick. The final confrontation, while nothing spectacular or memorable, is nevertheless well-acted by Speed, and benefits from the calm authority of William (Blacula) Marshall’s strong, vibrant voice. Exactly how Eshu finds Abby, who resides a continent away from the demon’s place of incarceration, and why it chooses to occupy her body instead of say, that of the man who opened its box, is never satisfactorily explained, which perhaps indicates that William Girdler’s chief objective was certainly to make plenty of money off the back of the craze for horror inspired by the success of The Exorcist, rather than to express any artistic aspirations. He would do the same thing even more blatantly a couple of years later with Grizzly, which was virtually a scene-for-scene remake of Jaws. Nevertheless, Girdler wasn’t just a hack. There was talent there, and while he was never going to challenge truly accomplished filmmakers, he was becoming a better director with each movie he made. Unfortunately, Girdler died in a helicopter crash while scouting locations for a new movie in 1978, so we never got to find out just how good he might have become.
(Reviewed 23rd December 2013)