Abby (1974)

B-Movie Enema’s October 2020 theme of Exorcist Rip-Off Month is back, and this time we got a pretty well-regarded one.

This week’s film is Abby, and it’s best described as one of the handful of blaxploitation horror films alongside Blacula, Blackenstein, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde, and Ganja and Hess.  This was part of a trio of blaxploitation films by William Girdler.  One of those, Sheba, Baby, will someday be on this blog because I LOVE blaxploitation.  I’ve talked about Girdler before, though.  He’s probably best known for making Grizzly in 1976.  However, his final film, The Manitou, dealt with Native American themes and was something I covered over at Film Seizure on my Monster Mondays show earlier this year.

Abby isn’t without some prestige, though.  It stars Carol Speed who was in several exploitation films of the 70s, and Blacula himself, William Marshall!  It also has Academy Award nominated actress Juanita Moore.  So it is not at all lacking in talent here.

The film probably didn’t get a fair shake with mainstream critics.  However, I think it did play well to black audiences.  It wasn’t really until more recently that I think the film became a little better received for what it was trying to do.  Sure, it’s a rip-off or clone of The Exorcist, but it is doing it on its own terms.  It’s not heavy with Catholic imagery or themes.  Instead, it is an African fertility god.  Some might have seen it as tongue-in-cheek and laugh it off as “oh the black characters are being terrorized by African booty deity and not our nice, white, Catholic ones.”  However, I gotta say…  What else do you want it to be for these characters?

In fact, this is rather perfect.  I might have found this to be offensive if it was a western religion as if to say it isn’t possible for them to believe in the validity of any other culture – even their own.

Abby was filmed just about an hour and a half down the road in Louisville, Kentucky.  Carol Speed won the lead in a kind of funny way.  The original actress in the role demanded she get a masseuse.  This was an incredibly low budget film.  There’s no room, or money, for any of that business.  She walked.  Speed was referred to Girdler and they seemed to hit it off well enough.

Carol Speed, and possibly a few others, swear the film was cursed by people falling ill and the fact that tornadoes were rampaging through during the course of filming.  However, some of this is pretty well contested.  Others from behind the scenes would say that after all the hub bub over The Exorcist being a cursed film, people probably wanted it to be weird and have scary stuff happen on the set of Abby.  It really didn’t even approach much more than coincidence.  People get sick.  And as for those tornadoes, well, they hit ten other states too.  So, most just chalk up the incredible desire for it to be an experience to being the cause of people thinking things were less than coincidental.

The real curse of the film, though, is its limited availability.  Warner Brothers was none too happy about there being a film like this that closely follows similar events to their massive hit of The Exorcist.  They filed some lawsuits that damaged this film’s ability to be distributed appropriately.  Not many people have been able to see it on screen, so a little bit of a legend of the “black Exorcist film” would crop up over the years.  It’s also hampered any kind of official release on home media in any sustained or restorative way.  First, you have to deal with Warner, but you also have to contend with the limited number of prints that were made for the film.  That makes a restoration rather difficult.

That said…  Vinegar Syndrome, Severin, and Blue Underground are pretty dang good at what they do to dig up these classics.

I will say that, yes, absolutely the quality of the film that my copy comes from is really rough.  But I don’t do this blog with 4k or 8k releases.  Ever.  So I’m not too worried about this.

“Why, yes. I am awesome.”

The movie opens with Bishop Garnet Williams (Marshall) having a surprise bon voyage picnic with his class.  He’s about to head to Africa for some missionary work.  He has a discussion with one of his students who is working on a thesis paper on the “Cult of Eshu”.  Eshu is supposedly a fertility god in several African cultures.  I will say that a Google search of Eshu comes up with a bunch of different possible roles of the being – one even being a “trickster god” like a Loki of Norse mythology.  This is something that Bishop Williams explains as well.  He says that Eshu is a god of chaos and a creator of whirlwinds.

Bishop Williams explains that the more he digs into the Nigerian variations of their mythology and religion, the less he knows.  He’s excited to go out and see what he can learn.  He’s a highly educated man in archaeology, theology, and like four or five other sciences.  So he’s naturally curious.  He has a son in Louisville – Reverend Emmett Williams.  We’ll get back to him in a bit.

In Nigeria, Bishop Williams finds an interesting idol that is carved to look like a man with a boner.  This tells him that this must be Eshu.

The idol is not solid, though.  Bishop Williams needs to figure out how to open it.  He sees something that twists kind of like a key and when the casing flips open, a powerful wind blows what appears to be some dust out.  It kills some of the people on his expedition before the wind finally dies down.

Back in the United States, Emmett Williams is moving into a new house with his wife, Abby.

Carol Speed is amazing in this movie.  She feels so settled into this character.  As she moves into her new home, she’s interacting with her mother and the way they speak back and forth in this is great.  It seems so real.  This also plays a little to Rosemary’s Baby.  Girdler himself admitted this was made to come off the coattails of The Exorcist, but this young couple moving into a new home that they are so happy and excited to be in definitely tips a hat at Polanski’s devil movie.

The first night at the new home, an invisible entity cruises through the house before causing everything to shake and lifting the bed up.  Emmett wakes up and realizes something is off with the temperature in the house being chilly and that obviously something disturbed him.  He wakes Abby up to see if she felt anything.  She thinks he woke her up to have sex.  So they do.

Niiice.

The next morning, Abby has a particularly “hot” shower.  I mean that in both temperature and in sexiness.  She begins to play with herself a little bit.  Outside, we can see her silhouette through the shower curtain.  Then… Something else joins her and embraces her.

After, things seem to go back to normal for Abby.  She carries on with her normal day-to-day chores of doing the laundry in the scary basement and everything.  Of course, the evil entity decides to lock her in the basement by slamming the door shut and blowing everything around in the room.  When the winds stop, the door opens, and Abby just leaves the basement like nothing’s the matter.  That is until dinner that night when Emmett raises his glass for a toast and the glass shatters by itself in his hand.

The next day, Abby is working with her mother.  She’s cutting up some chicken and the demon inside her starts to get pretty interested in the chickeny goop.  So much so, she starts to react somewhat sexually to cutting the chicken’s legs.  She then decides to slit her own forearm.  Her mother and Emmett think of it as a peculiar accident.  Her doctor thinks it is a little more peculiar than just plain ol’ peculiar.  Abby is terrified.

At church service, we see Abby perform as the lead singer in the choir.  As Emmett begins to read a prayer for the congregation, Abby starts having a choking and coughing fit and needs to be removed from the service.  When she’s pulled into a room to get help, she attacks the people helping her and tosses a guy outside.  She rushes out laughing like a madwoman and begins puking on him.  That night, Emmett finally is able to get a call through to Nigeria to speak to Bishop Williams.  He tells him how she is acting and asks for advice.  However, despite really needing his help, the Bishop won’t be stateside for another couple weeks.

More weirdness…  Emmett comes into the room with some roleplay for his wife to get laid.  Abby, now speaking in a scary deep voice, asks why he thinks sex is love.  She then says he doesn’t have enough to satisfy her.  She then kicks him in the balls.

Nuticular trauma is a borderless, race-less, creed-less act, Enemaniacs.

The next day, Emmett goes to see his brother-in-law, Cass, who is a police detective.  He asks if Abby has ever taken drugs that might be changing her personality.  Later, Emmett comes home and sees that Abby is counseling a young couple.  Abby has just received her certificate to be a marriage counselor.  She seems sweet and professional until Emmett comes into the room.  That brings the scary deep voice back.  She starts speaking about how not all men are created equal because some men aren’t as well-endowed as others.  She then says she’s going to take the guy upstairs and fuck the shit out of him and rips open her dress.

Emmett takes her upstairs and she begs for help until the scary voice comes back and she tosses Emmett onto the bed.  She climbs on top and starts raping him.

Later, the church organist comes over to spend the day with Abby for company.  Abby starts insulting her with the scary voice and starts slapping her about.  I’m beginning to think that this Eshu guy is kind of a dick.  Actually… Check that.  I know he’s a dick because I think the little old lady has a heart attack and keels over dead.  Emmett calls his father again and says that he thinks this is much more than anything he could handle and needs his father to come back to help.  Just as he hangs up, a powerful thunderstorm kicks up in Nigeria and creates all kinds of havoc.

Abby is taken to the hospital for a whole litany of tests.  Hey!  You know, just like in The Exorcist and The Turkish Exorcist!  They can’t find anything wrong.  You know, just like in The Exorcist and The Turkish Exorcist!

One thing I really love in this happens here in this hospital scene.  We were given a clue to this earlier with the couple coming over for counseling, but whenever Abby is not in the same room with with Emmett, she’s really sweet and normal.  When Emmett comes in, she goes nuts.  In this scene, he comes in to visit her and she’s real sweet and talking to the nurse, but when the nurse leaves, her eyes go funky and her scary voice comes back and she begins manhandling Emmett and thanks him “for callin’ that motherfuckin’ father of” his.

Bishop Williams returns home and is met at the airport by Emmett.  He tells his father that it’s been like a week in hell and everything is so terrible with Abby.  That night, before Emmett and the Bishop can get to the hospital to check out Abby, she decides she’s had enough of this motherfucking hospital shit.  She starts pushing people out of the way and throwing them into closets and pantsing them (probably).  When Emmett and the Bishop get back to the house, Abby is waiting for them there.

Again, she seems sweet and stuff.  Emmett is utterly confused.  Abby starts coming onto William Marshall because… well… He’s fuckin’ Blacula.  The Bishop slaps her arm away as she starts rubbing on him.  Abby drops the sweet shit, and uses her scary voice.  She tells them she’s not done with Abby’s body and when she’s done she’s gonna come back and get their asses.  (For real.  This movie is awesome enough for Abby to say “I’m gonna get your ass!” to the Bishop.)

Abby takes off into the night and Emmett stops a lady and commandeers her car on official church business.

“Wait… How did she get this number?”

While the Bishop tells Cass that his sister is possessed and that she needs to be clear of the demon by midnight or she’ll die, the demon calls Emmett at a payphone to taunt him a little.  She’s at a nightclub and the demon says it’s time for Abby to “live”.  Emmett calls home and tells Cass what he heard on the phone from the demon Abby.  Cass heads out to help Emmett find the nightclub she was calling from.

Sure enough, we cut to a very happenin’ night club full of people drinkin’ the booze and dancin’ the dance.

Abby waltzes on in and immediately finds the coolest hep cats to snuggle up to.  One of the patrons there is the guy who tried to help her at the church and she tossed out into the lawn and puked on, Russell.

He offers her a ride home because he immediately believes her to be drunk.  He had dinner and he said that he was full despite it not being entirely eaten.  Abby says that he needs to save some room for his dessert.  He’s both put off and really turned on by this idea.  I get it, brother.  I get it.

Russell thinks he’s going to take her home.  She has him pull over and fucks him… to death…?  She fucks Russell so hard that smoke comes out of the dude’s limo and the demon’s voice says stuff about how much fun it is to kill.  I think Carol Speed’s pussy just melted a dude?

Emmett and Cass continue checking out the bars.  Abby decides to get some more flesh for the honeypot if you catch my drift.  This time a goofy white dude is the target.  That also means that I might have had a chance too!

I will say one thing that is particularly odd about this movie.  For the first hour, this film had zero fat.  The thing was cooking along like it was an out of control freight train.  Now, suddenly in the last 30 minutes of the movie, things seem to be moving a little too slowly.  I’m not against the idea of this fertility demon is using this woman to prowl for sexual encounters.  That’s fascinating on lots of levels.  However, it’s a lot of A-B-C kind of storytelling.  We have the A – Abby going around and finding dudes to bang to death.  Then we have B – the Bishop is prepping for his showdown against the demon.  Then there’s C – Cass and Emmett in a montage going from bar to bar looking for Abby.  These are interchanged and rotated, but very stiff.

The Abby parts are kind of fun because it is Carol Speed kind of acting drunk and flirting with guys who are obviously chosen because they would be most likely to leave with her the moment she suggests it.  The Bishop moments are kind of cool in the sense that you see William Marshall in a church asking for God’s help to battle Eshu.  You also have this really cool shot as he inspects Abby’s room where she’s spent most of her time at home.

The problem in this, though, is that Cass and Emmett’s scenes are kind of boring.  They aren’t scoring strange or prepping with God to fight a demon.  However, they do finally get to the bar that Abby has been using to pick up victims.  They call the Bishop so he can hightail it over to the bar so they can do that exorcism right there.  This kind of looks like the place that the Candy Tangerine Man showed up and laid down some gunfire to fuck up some gangsters.

Anyway, when Emmett sees Abby dancing with a couple guys, she belittles him showing that she doesn’t have any wedding ring (which she threw away while melting that guy with her vagina in the limo).  The guys decide to help out with the verbal and physical abuse on Emmett.  Cass comes along to break things up, but Abby starts tossing fools around like they are ragdolls.  Finally, the Bishop shows up to do that battle.

“Hello, motherFUCKA!!!”
– Abby Williams c.1974

Abby starts saying that the Bishop has some secrets that his son doesn’t know about.  I’m guessing this is a trick.  As he gets Cass and Emmett to join him in his battle against Eshu, Eshu starts saying she will offer them all free will which is basically what everyone wants.  The Bishop says that she’s just going to try to tempt them.  Cass and Emmett are finally able to hold her and lay her onto the floor.  This demon turns out to be something other than Eshu.  The Bishop deduced that if this was the real Eshu, the three men would hardly be effective against it.  This is just a pretender that angered Eshu and the true fertility god trapped this lesser demon in that idol.

So William Marshall wins because of course he does.  However, the ravages of this whole thing leaves Abby in some not so great physical straits.  Meaning she still has giant eyebrows and her brains are gonna be a little scrambled for a bit, but, as he says, “In time it will be okay…” and just leaves.  Now, there is a tag-on epilogue before the end credits showing Emmett and Abby going on a much needed vacation.  She’s happy and beautiful again so I guess God was like, “Yeah, I gotta fix this bitch up.”

This is a relatively fun movie.  I could complain that Abby killed multiple people but nothing is really said about it.  Like, when Emmett commandeered that car, Cass came along and just said, “Hey, this is family business.  I’ll take care of it.”  And… And he did.  But there’s a dead funeral home limo and hearse driver.  There’s a dead honky.  That little old lady died pretty horribly.  Nobody got nuthin’ to say about this?  I mean, I get it, Abby was possessed.  However, everybody just skated over that like it was no problem at all.  Maybe the entire plot of Abby II: The Blasphemer explains what happened next.

Truthfully, I didn’t expect the movie to end with Abby standing trial for those deaths, but I would have thought someone would say something about the deaths or how they are going to cover that shit up.

Oh well.  Next week’s Exorcist Rip-Off takes us back overseas.  This time, I’m going to Germany for the far naughtier Magdalena, Possessed by the Devil so be sure to be here for that!

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