22nd BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Abby (1974, dir William Girdler)
“Well I hope you have some room left sweetie, cos your dessert is still to come!”
Dubbed “The Blaxorcist” for more reasons than one, Abby is William Girdler’s Blaxploitation horror movie about marriage counsellor Abby Williams (Blaxploitation regular Carol Speed), possessed by an African sex spirit accidentally released by archaeologist-cum-Bishop Garnet Williams (William Marshall of Blacula fame).
Released in 1974 by schlock horror masters AIP, it was soon pulled from theatres thanks to a Warner Bros lawsuit for copyright violation of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973). Prior to the suit it was very successful – grossing millions in its first month (from a $500,000 budget). Warner Bros of course won their case, the movie was subsequently buried, and the director himself (who also co-wrote the screenplay) would later admit that Abby was indeed made to ride on the success of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.
The film is a gem from the popular 70s genre, and any fans of either genre should check it out. It is more than competently directed – one early sequence of Girdler’s camera winding through a house at night builds a sense of foreboding to a crescendo, then we see chairs shake, cups and saucers shatter and a door slam in moments of about implied supernatural horror.
Where Abby truly succeeds is in building a narrative. From the outset it gives us hardworking, salt of the earth characters to care about, then places them in peril. Abby is visited by the unleashed spirit (in a ‘sexy’ shower scene) and is subsequently tormented in the most mundane of environments - when taking clothes down to the basement to do the washing, Abby is visited by what seems to be a poltergeist; chopping chicken for the family meal soon becomes a disturbing moment of self-mutilation. These set pieces could teach the Paranormal Activity series a thing or two about implied horror in mundane settings – certainly Abby oozes with chills, suspense and terror that many modern haunted house or demonic possession movies manage far less effectively. After a visceral choking fit in Church turns into a possessed attack, Speed is believably distraught, her family terrified, and the audience cannot help but feel for the helpless girl as Nigerian God Eshu digs his claws deeper into his unwitting prey.
The shocks and scares build in intensity throughout the movie – as our possessed protagonist goes on the attack we hear guttural groans and see flashes of the spirit/demon’s true face, the poltergeist-like activity ramps up and blood, vomit and spittle flies. Soon bodies start to pile up, and it is all too easy to believe that Abby and those closest to her are in serious danger.
Abby goes on a violent, sexualized rampage through her neighbourhood (when her car is a rocking, you won’t come a knocking!) and it is up to her Reverend husband (Terry Carter) and William Marshall’s Bishop to intervene and save poor Abby from the monster within her. The final confrontation, a gripping and dramatic battle for Abby’s body and soul, is expertly helmed an provides the film with a superb, bittersweet finale.
The film carries some great Blaxploitation tropes – Abby is sexy, sassy and sweet, running hot with Christian values, sharp suits and swinging joints. Girdler and G. Cornell Layne’s screenplay is loaded with savvy street slang, curse-heavy (with liberal use of the word motherfucker) dialogue, and allows African American actors to get to grips with all the roles they weren’t getting in mainstream cinema (in a hospital sequence, white roles are limited to a blink and you’ll miss her Nurse, while the senior Doctor is refreshingly played by a black actor). It has a blistering funk score and is an absolute joy to watch. That Abby’s possession leads her into a downward spiral of intoxication, violence, sexual misdemeanour and abandonment of her Christian values shows that the movie’s theme carries a message relevant to its intended African American audience as well as a horror story that is as complementary to The Exorcist as it is derivative of it.
Fans of Blaxploitation and Horror alike will find a lot to like in this movie. Even casual fans will be delighted by the sight of Blacula himself playing the role of chief Exorcist, and genre geeks will get a kick out of seeing a number of tropes put to very good use. Due to the Warner Bros lawsuit this movie is not widely available, but it can currently be found on YouTube HERE
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING
Blackhorrormovies.com (2005) Abby 1974
Faraci, Devin (2011) Schlock Corridor: ABBY (1974), The Blaxorcist Movie Warner Bros Doesn’t Want You To See
Peterson, Ross (2014) Film Review: Abby 1974
Venoms5 (2013) Abby 1974 review
Check out the trailer for ABBY!
Check out the Beyond The Void Horror Podcast! It's all about Possession. We talk Possession (1981) & The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014). Two extremely great performance from women for #WiHM9. Press play, CLICK HERE or click on Pic to listen!