Film Review: Abby (1974)

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SYNOPSIS:

Abby, a wholesome young woman becomes possessed by the Nigerian god, Eshu.

REVIEW:

ABBY is a forgotten blaxploitation gem from the golden age of American International Pictures. Upon its release, it had been remarkably successful, grossing millions (its budget had been under $500,000). But, shortly after its initial run, American International got sued by Warner Bros. for ripping off THE EXORCIST. Warner Bros. won the case, and ABBY, as a result, became buried in obscurity.

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Does it rip off THE EXORCIST? You better believe it. A work of plagiarism? I’m not an intellectual property lawyer; I don’t know. But I do know this: it is a great blaxploitation-horror flick contemporaneous with BLACULA and SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM.

William Marshall, even, who starred as Blacula, plays Dr. Williams, the narrative equivalent of Father Karras–the exorcist figure. Williams is a minister, scholar, and archaeologist. And when he enters a cave in Nigeria, he finds an idol of Eshu, the god of sexuality. Eshu has a violent, destructive side and–well–uses human sexuality against the victims he . . . possesses. He’s “a trickster, creator of whirlwinds . . . chaos.”

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Dr. Williams is the father-in-law of Abby (Carol Speed), an all around decent woman who has just begun her career as a Christian marriage counselor. Eshu finds his way to Abby, she gets possessed, and her politeness, gentleness, and piety turn to hard cussing, horniness, and blasphemy.

“WHADDAYA THINK OF MY POWERS NOW?”

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I love the soundtracks to Blaxploitation movies. The bigger budgeted ones had James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Quincy Jones, etc. But the cheaper ones still brought the funk. ABBY’s soundtrack is no exception; it has a memorable original title song, too. The wah-wah pedal is pumping as Abby breaks out of her bedroom–Regan never even left the house–and drives to terrorize a dance club. You won’t know what shattered the disco ball, the kinetic power of Eshu or the horn section. The strings, drums, bass–they keep this EXORCIST cash-in jammin’.

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There’s loads of great, trippy visual and audio effects, too. The face of Eshu appears translucent in a poof of cloudiness, grinning–frequently. That signifies trouble. They cranked up the reverb and gave a sinister echo effect for a lot of the evil things Abby says while possessed, too: “C’mon you mother-***er-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r–” For such a low budget, ABBY has a great cinematic atmosphere altogether: some fabulous creepy tracking shots, shaky-cam, killer freeze frames and fade aways. And talk about a great shower scene with the shadow of Eshu standing with Abby behind the curtain. Look out, Abby!

My favorite scene involves our protagonist, just beginning to deviate from normalcy, cutting raw chicken . . . then salivating, moaning, and leering over it. The camera works wonders here, exaggerating her eyes and fingernails perfectly–before she starts self-mutilating! And is that what an Alka-Selzer overdose looks like? Gross.

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I’m in awe of Carol Speed, an American International favorite and regular. She was great in THE MACK and THE BIG BIRD CAGE, but ABBY is her finest work. Her performance is undeniably dynamic: she goes from sweet to maniacal amazingly well–with minimal make up effects, too. Carol Speed gets slithery and larger than life, most notably in a gospel-choir-gone-awry scene, a counseling-session-gone-awry scene, and, of course, causing quite the stir at the dance club. The supporting cast is great also, especially William Marshall, who can wield a big cross just as well as he can cower away from it, as he did in the two BLACULA flicks.

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The only weakness with ABBY is its plot. Beyond clearly being derivative–I don’t think anyone cares about that too much anymore–it’s not believable that Eshu would move all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to possess Abby. We’re supposed to believe that Eshu is trying to destroy Williams. Why doesn’t he just possess Williams? Why Abby? It’s a stretch. You don’t watch ’70s American International flicks for their storylines, though.

I hope not, anyway.

ABBY, all in all, is a lost classic, waiting to be unearthed again. It’s boldly revolutionary–as all the good blaxploitation flicks are–action-packed, funky, weird, and has hilarious and cool dialogue.
Right on!

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