Abby (1974) poster

Abby (1974)


USA. 1974.


Director – William Girdler, Screenplay – G. Cornell Layne, Story – William Girdler & G. Cornell Layne, Producers – William Girdler, Mike Henry & Gordon C. Layne, Photography – William Asman, Music – Robert O. Ragland, Special Effects – Sam Price, Makeup – Joe Kenney, Production Design – J. Patrick Kelly III. Production Company – Mid America Pictures.


William Marshall (Reverend Garnet Williams), Carol Speed (Abby Williams), Terry Carter (Emmett Williams), Austin Stoker (Cass Potter), Juanita Moore (Momma Potter), Elliott Moffitt (Russell Lang), Nancy Lee Owens (Sadie Wiggins), Bob Holt (Voice of Eshu)


Reverend Garnet Williams flies to Nigeria as part of a church mission. He is also a professor of ancient religions and uses the opportunity to investigate a temple of the Yoruba cult. Uncovering a box of the demon Eshu, Williams opens it and a supernatural wind emerges. Back in Louisville, Kentucky, Williams’s son Emmett, a pastor, moves into a new house with his wife Abby. She suddenly begins to demonstrate disturbing behaviours, including turning foul-mouthed and taunting, sexually aggressive. She moves objects with the power of her mind and causes a woman to die of a heart-attack, while going out a picking up men in bars for casual sex. Emmett begs his father to return. When Reverend Williams does, he determines that Abby is possessed by Eshu. The stage is set in a downtown disco for a battle as Reverend Williams attempts an exorcism of the demon.

William Girdler was one of the great unsung genre/exploitation directors of the 1970s. Girdler first appeared with the occult film Asylum of Satan (1972), followed by Three on a Meathook (1972). Then came wider exposure and better budgets with Abby and the animals attack films Grizzly (1976) and Day of the Animals (1977). Girdler’s one moment of greatness was The Manitou (1978) about a reincarnated Native American medicine man. Girdler’s career ended in 1978 when he was killed in a helicopter crash while location scouting for his next film.

Abby is one of the most famous/notorious films in William Girdler’s oeuvre. It was one of the first films that came out copying the massive success of The Exorcist (1973), which makes it one of the first Mockbusters. Warner Brothers promptly sued for copyright infringement and Girdler lost, meaning that the film was taken out of distribution. The sole reason that Abby was singled out among the numerous other Exorcist ripoffs of the era can probably be put down to the fact that it was the first – it is no different to many of the Italian copies such as The Antichrist/The Tempter (1974) and Beyond the Door (1974) that quickly appeared soon after. (For a more detailed overview see Possession Films).

The one novelty spin that William Girdler conducts is that he makes Abby a Blaxploitation take on The Exorcist. Blaxploitation was the fad for cool Black heroes and jive Black culture that appeared after the huge success of Shaft (1971). Blacula (1972) paved the way for a horror take on Blaxploitation themes with a number of other films quickly rushing to fill the gap and conducting Blaxploitation takes on familiar horror themes with the likes of Blackenstein (1973) and Dr Black and Mr Hyde (1976).

The Blaxploitation take leads to an interesting twist on The ExorcistThe Exorcist’s Catholic cant has now been replaced by Gospel with the priest of the show being a preacher, while the Iraqi beginning of The Exorcist is now tied to ancient African religions in Nigeria. Abby’s wildest spin is having the climactic exorcism not take place in the possessed woman’s bedroom but in the midst of a disco dancefloor. Many other scenes – those where the exorcist goes to Africa and engages in archaeology, the scenes where the possessed woman is put through a battery of intrusive medical tests before the doctors throw up their hands – have been blatantly borrowed from The Exorcist.

A possessed Carol Speed in Abby (1974)
Carol Speed as the possessed Abby

The other thing that Abby does is bump the age of the possessed woman up from a twelve-year-old girl to a 29 year-old Carol Speed. This allows a depiction of demonic possession that is far more overtly sexual than anything The Exorcist ever did. In one scene, Carol Speed is giving counselling advice to a married couple and announces (in a standard deep voice): “I’m going to give you the fact of life. All men are not created equal. As a matter of fact, I’m going to take Long George upstairs and fuck the shit out of him.” The horror of the film is centred around a virtuous church-going woman being corrupted and suddenly speaking foul language, acting aggressively sexual, taunting her husband sexually and (shock! horror!) running away from her husband and allowing herself to be picked up by strangers in nightclubs. The shock of seeing a child talking foul-mouthed and acting obscene we had in The Exorcist has been replaced by the far tamer image of a virtuous wife kicking up her heels and starting to enjoy sex.

Abby has a fairly bad reputation and was even nominated in The Golden Turkey Awards (1980) for ‘The Worst Blaxploitation Film Ever Made’. It is not that poor a film – one suspects that people’s problems is more to do with it being such a blatant copy of The Exorcist. Certainly, William Girdler’s direction is often crude – cheap theatrics such as a slamming cellar door, furniture falling over and the poorly arranged scene of a shadowy figure appearing in silhouette in the shower with Carol Speed. There are none of The Exorcist’s barf bag theatrics and only a few perfunctory scenes with the demon psychically throwing objects around.

The one great thing that Abby has going for it is the presence of Blacula himself William Marshall. Marshall was a classic Shakespearean-trained actor with a booming voice who could create enormous gravitas simply with his presence alone. It is a stroke of genius casting him in the role of The Exorcist. It is Marshall in particular who holds the film together in the climactic exorcism scenes. The scenes with him trading taunts with the demon and psychologically challenging it are something he nails to perfection. He has an amazing stature and presence with which he manages to hold the show’s considerable ridiculousness pinned steady with his utter seriousness and conviction.

Trailer here

Full film available here

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