William Girdler, 1974
Starring: William Marhsall, Terry Carter, Austin Stoker, Carol Speed
Abby — essentially the stereotype of a good Christian housewife — is an active member of the church and local community and she does everything she can to make her husband Emmett happy. Meanwhile, her father-in-law is on a dig in Africa exploring artifacts of the Yoruba religion when she begins to act strangely. Her transformation is gradual: she masturbates in the shower and either accidentally or purposefully cuts herself while preparing yet another family meal of fried chicken. She graduates to almost constant profanity and becomes a full blown sexual predator, beating and raping her own husband, having sex with various strangers, nearly instigating a gang bang, and killing a man who refuses her. Presumably she has sex with his corpse afterwards. She is also responsible for a neighbor’s death by heart attack, among other minor infractions.
Though her desperate husband is a reverend himself, he reaches out to his father, Bishop Williams, for help. Williams returns from Africa and comes to believe that Abby is possessed by the spirit of Eshu, a Yoruba god who rules over trickery and sexuality. Emmett and Williams do everything they can to free Abby of the spirit before she can do anymore harm to herself — or others.
If you’re expecting nothing more than a blaxploitation version of The Exorcist, Abby may surprise you. The film’s main issue is unsurprisingly, its similarity to The Exorcist, which inspired Warner to sue after Abby had unexpected success in the box office. Despite the numerous rip-offs of The Exorcist being made at the time, few were legally targeted outside of Abby or Beyond the Door. As a result of the lawsuit, Abby was pulled from theaters and remained unavailable for many years. Director William Girdler’s wonderful Grizzly (coincidentally a Jaws rip-off) nearly experienced the same fate.
William Girdler is one of my favorite low budget directors. Though he had a short career – cut sadly brief by a helicopter accident that claimed his life – nearly all of his horror and exploitation films are delightful: Three on a Meathook, Day of the Animals, Sheba Baby, and his final film, The Manitou, which treads some of the same ground as Abby. Read my brief retrospective of William Girdler to learn more about his work.
Some scenes are taken directly from The Exorcist – the levitation scene and quick shots of Eshu’s deformed face – but plenty about Abby is original, including an incident with a disco ball and the significant time spent in night clubs. The inclusion of Yoruba was apparently actor William Marshall’s idea and it certainly gives the film a fresh, original feel. Apparently Marshall was something of an expert on the subject and lectured about it at various colleges and universities. Having taken an in-depth class on Santeria and Yoruba back in college, I can attest that the details present in the film are relatively faithful.
There are some cheesy, but amazing effects when Abby is fully possessed by Eshu, and keep your eyes peeled for when she looks like She-Hulk. Girdler, never known for his large budgets, always made the best of whatever was available to him. The fact that he didn't call the film The Blaxorcist is perhaps a testament to how seriously he took his movies regardless of the often absurd subject matter.
Plenty of scenes are unintentionally hilarious, such as when Abby breaks out of the hospital and confronts her husband and father-in-law. After taunting them, she runs away and her husband chases her. In order to catch up, he car-jacks a random white woman. And Abby’s possession dialogue must be heard to be believed.
The film relies less on blaxploitation tropes than you may think, though there are some club scenes bursting with afros, jive talk, and outrageous ‘70s clothing. The most hilarious blaxploitation moments actually involve Eshu-Abby, where she lets loose some delightful dialogue in a deep, otherworldly voice that either sounds like she’s a life-long heavy smoker or has been gargling broken glass.
Carol Speed (The Big Bird Cage, Disco Godfather, Black Samson) is great and effectively carries the film as the sweet, religious Abby and the sexual, violent Eshu. She even manages to surpass William Marshall (Blacula, Star Trek), though he holds his own as the film’s hero with his booming voice, obvious acting talent, and commanding presence. Terry Carter (Battlestar Galactica, Foxy Brown) is also a welcome presence as Abby’s long suffering husband.
Certainly one of the weirdest and most over the top blaxploitation or possession films, Abby comes highly recommended to a wide variety of film fans. Anyone who love B-grade horror, exorcism films, and blaxploitation will find a lot to enjoy here. Though unavailable for decades, Abby was released on DVD. I believe it is out of print, but still easy to get a hold of through Amazon. It is also streaming online.