There’s subgenres and then there’s sub-subgenres. Today’s film falls into that later category. Hitting the screen in 1974, Abby was obviously intended to cash in on the success of The Exorcist (1973), and Warner Brothers Studio even managed to file a successful complaint against the film causing it to be pulled from markets. The picture had even been somewhat of a success raking in over four million dollars before it was pulled. It’s really too bad this film has still been suppressed and unable to reach a wide audience as it’s really a good flick with an interesting premise.
Bishop Garnet Williams (William Marshall) is in Egypt on a mission to uncover antiquities and information about the God Eshu, but little does he know he has released the spirit on the world. It travels halfway around the world to Kentucky where Abby (Carol Speed) and her husband Rev. Emmett Williams (Terry Carter) are moving into a new house. Abby becomes possessed by the evil spirit, and she begins to act strangely. The first sign that something is wrong appears when she purposely cuts her own arm. Then she begins to act violently, lashing out at her husband. Soon her voice changes entirely as Abby is consumed by the demon. Emmett does everything he can to help her, but there is nothing he can do. He must call his father back from Egypt to help him exorcise the demon from Abby’s soul.
Carol Speed does an admirable job as Abby. As she descends into possession she cries, foams at the mouth, thrashes around, and lashes out all with equal abandon. She had quite the vibrant career in exploitation films in the early seventies appearing in The Mack, The Big Bird Cage, and Black Samson, but Ms. Speed didn’t make another film for five years after Abby until she appeared in Rudy Ray Moore’s Disco Godfather. She was supposed to have an appearance in Jackie Brown, but her footage sadly ended up on the cutting room floor. Since moving out of acting, Carol has written a book on her experience in Blaxploitation films called Inside Black Hollywood, and in 2006 she returned to the screen with a small part in Village Vengance. There is quite a good interview with Ms. Speed about the making of Abby that you should check out HERE at her website.
Terry Carter and William Marshall both turn in believable performances as the father and son. Many may remember Marshall as the King of Cartoons from Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and I guess you may have heard of a little film called Blackula. He’s also well known to fans of the original Star Trek series as Dr. Richard Daystom in the episode “The Ultimate Computer.” His character would take on a long standing role in the show’s mythology.
Terry Carter, who also appeared in Foxy Brown, would become part of a different kind of cult when he took on the role of Colonel Tigh on the short-lived Battlestar Galactica series in 1978, but there’s much more to the man than that. In 1965, Carter became the first African American man to anchor a newscast when he was hired by a Boston based television station. He also appeared in an early film by future erotic film maker Tinto Brass when he appeared in 1969’s Nerosubianco. Carter is still a working actor today though much of his energy is devoted to supporting causes like Amnesty International.
I’d like to take a second to talk about William Girdler. Although he only made nine films in his short career, almost every one of them is a piece of genre movie gold. Starting with 1972’s Three on a Meathook, the Pam Grier Film Sheeba Baby in ‘75, Grizzly and the Leslie Neilson action vehicle Project: Kill in ‘76, and ending his career with Day of the Animals (1977) and The Manitou (1978). Sadly, Girdler passes away in 1978, and even though Abby had been his biggest success, he never saw a dime from the project due to the lawsuit.
The movie itself is pretty dang entertaining. With some decent acting going on, the story of Abby’s decent into possession is enthralling. Sure, it doesn’t make much sense that the spirit would travel around the world and just happen to find the Bishop’s daughter-in-law Sure it doesn’t make much sense that her husband thinks his wife just needs a doctor when she begins to talk three octaves lower and in another voice. Sure, all of this is true, and so is the fact that I sure as hell didn’t give a damn. When you have a film that is so gloriously over the top with the possession scenes, it really doesn’t matter how silly the plot is. Either you’re going to go with it and love the film or you’re going to just hate it from start to finish.
Horror movie fans should enjoy the possession sequences which are both silly and entertaining. Blaxploitation fans will find some of the greatest actors from the period packed into this forgotten gem, but what you won’t find here is a copycat story. Warner Brothers would never win that suit in this day and age, but it was a different time then. So check Abby out and give it the viewers it was cheated out of so many years ago. It’s kind of a hard one to get your hands on, but our friends over at Cinema de Bizarre carry it. So hop over there, pick it up, and tell them the Bugg sent ya or check it out on bmovies.com.