Another case of a “lost” film that’s become an extremely sought-after item among horror buffs but, now that it’s finally been unearthed, turns out to be a disappointment. Sure, ABBY deserves credit for being one of the few all-black horror films to take itself and its viewers seriously, but that doesn’t change the fact that it just isn’t very good.
Although its supporters would have you believe that ABBY (1974), about a black woman possessed by a demon, was not a blatant rip-off of THE EXORCIST, and that the two films only share a few “surface details”, it IS very clearly “inspired” by the earlier film. For proof, there are the words of ABBY’S own director William Girdler, who has confessed it was made “to come in on the shirttail” of the other.
ABBY was released on the drive-in circuit by the ever-exploiting American International Pictures, who initially wanted to change its title to THE BLACKORCIST (to make it fit in with other “blaxploitation” horror flicks like BLACULA and BLACKENSTEIN), and who pulled it from release when Warner Brothers threatened to sue them for plagiarizing THE EXORCIST. Thus ABBY vanished from circulation for nearly thirty years until being released on DVD in 2003 by an outfit called Cine Fear Releasing. It contains what may be the single worst audio-visual transfer I’ve ever encountered on an official release DVD–consider yourself warned!
Abby is a young black woman living in domestic bliss with her husband Emmett, a dedicated minister. Her father-in-law Garnet is on an archaeological expedition in a cave in Nigeria, where he inadvertently unleashes an ancient African deity called Eshu. The demon isn’t content to stay in Africa, however–it travels back to America and takes over Abby’s body, causing her do outrageous and profane things that shock her devout hubby.
Emmett takes Abby to a doctor, who gives her a CAT scan. Nothing is found to be wrong with Abby’s mind, yet her behavior only grows wilder. Eventually Garnet returns from Nigeria; learning what has happened, he determines that Abby is a victim of demonic possession and an exorcism must be performed before the night is through. But first he and Emmett will have to find Abby–the horny demon inside her has embarked on a sex rampage, going from bar to bar and picking up guys. Eventually the men track Abby down at a sleazy bar and there perform the exorcism. Long-story-short: Eshu is driven out and all live happily ever after.
I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but the late William Girdler (killed in a helicopter accident in 1978, at age thirty) was never much of a director. His films–GRIZZLY, DAY OF THE ANIMALS, THE MANITOU–may have been moneymakers in their day, but that doesn’t disguise the fact that none of them are very good, and neither is ABBY. It suffers from much noticeable padding: shots tend to be held for interminable periods of time and there’s at least one pointless montage showcasing the “local color” of the black scene, not to mention a couple silly dance numbers that are allowed to drag on far too long. None of this does anything to hide the fact that the script is painfully thin and unimaginative, content to dutifully follow in the footsteps of THE EXORCIST while offering little that’s new or interesting. I suppose the idea of holding an exorcism in a dingy bar is inspired, but the execution is thoroughly pedestrian.
At times Girdler opts for pretension, with a number of abrupt fade outs (anticipating arty auteurs like Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismaki) and quick, near-subliminal intercuts of a demonic face during Abby’s freak-outs, but they fail to liven things up. What does give the film the little spark it has are the performances of William Marshall and Carol Speed. Marshall had already proven himself a formidable talent as BLACULA, and once again demonstrates a unique and imposing screen presence, while Speed, best known for her role in THE MACK, is appropriately uninhibited and at times even a mite scary in the title role. Bob Holt also deserves credit, as he voices the demonic Eshu, sounding like nothing so much as a ghetto-ized Mercedes McCambridge.
American International Pictures
Director: William Girdler
Producers: William Girdler, Mike Henry, G. Cornell Layne
Screenplay: G. Cornell Lane
Cinematography: William Asman
Editing: Henry Asman, Corky Ehlers
Cast: William Marshall, Terry Carter, Austin Stoker, Carol Speed, Juanita Moore, Charles Kissinger, Elliott Moffitt, Nathan Cook, Nancy Lee Owens, William P. Bradford, Joann Holcomb, Claude Fulkerson, Bill Wilson, Chuck Broadus, Don Henderson, John Miller, Joan Ray, George Robinson