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ABBY (1974)

“My God, Abby! Whatever possessed you to do a thing like that!?”





  Director:
 
William Girdler

  Starring: 
Carol Speed, William Marshall, Terry Carter, Austin Stoker, Juanita Moore, Elliott Moffitt, Charles Kissinger, Nancy Lee Owens

  Screenplay: 
G. Cornell Layne, based upon a story by William Girdler and G. Cornell Layne

 

Synopsis:  On the verge of his departure for Nigeria, where his mission is assisting the victims of an epidemic, theologist and archaeologist Dr Garnet Williams (William Marshall) is given a picnic party by some of his students, with whom he discusses the cult of Eshu, a Yoruban deity who is a god of sexuality. Williams describes Eshu as a trickster, a creator of whirlwinds and chaos. In West Africa, Williams has the opportunity to participate in a dig within a cave where the followers of Eshu practiced their rites. The team makes a valuable find: a small, carved, casket-like object. Williams points out to his excited followers the signs of Eshu. Realising that the object is hollow, Williams opens it – and a tremendous force explodes from within the casket, throwing the men present all over the cave.... In Louisville, Kentucky, the Reverend Emmett Williams (Terry Carter), Garnet Williams’ son, and his wife, Abby (Carol Speed), begin moving into their new home with the help of Abby’s mother (Juanita Moore) and her brother, police detective Cass Potter (Austin Stoker). That night, as the couple sleep, a mysterious power moves through the house, shaking the furniture and slamming doors. The next day, as Abby showers, she is overcome by intense sexual desire, as a shadowy entity seems to engulf her.... Later, Abby enters the basement to do laundry. The door slams shut, trapping her, and a powerful wind rips through the small room – then departs as suddenly as it came. The door swings open, and a dazed Abby walks slowly upstairs.... Abby and her family have a dinner to celebrate the new house; but as Emmett proposes a toast, his glass shatters in his hand. Abby and her mother help prepare chicken for a church function. As she works, Abby is strangely affected by the sight of blood. She then turns her knife onto herself, slicing open her own forearm – then collapses, screaming. As her doctor departs, shaking his head over this “strange kind of accident”, Abby sobs that she doesn’t know what happened. On the following Sunday, as her husband leads his congregation in prayer, Abby is suddenly overcome by a violent coughing fit. When the church deacon, Russell Lang (Elliott Moffitt), tries to help her, Abby attacks him violently. Emmett gets a phone-call through to his father, but then finds himself unable to go into detail about Abby’s behaviour. Garnet tells him that he will be leaving Nigeria in two weeks, and will visit Louisville on his way home. Emmett tries to be intimate with Abby. She turns on him viciously, insulting him in a deep rasping voice and kicking him in the groin, laughing hysterically as he collapses in pain. The next day, Emmett questions Cass Potter about Abby’s past, finally asking if she ever used drugs; a suggestion that Cass rejects contemptuously. Abby holds a pre-marital counselling session, but in the middle of it, when Emmett enters the room, she begins shouting obscenities and then tries to seduce the groom. Emmett carries her forcibly to their room, where she collapses, crying uncontrollably and begging him to help her....

Comments:  The international success of The Exorcist in 1973 spawned a highly profitable cottage industry of rip-off productions that positively flourished for the next three years, and continues to exhibit occasional hiccoughs of life even to this day. Due to the strange-bedfellow combination of a Catholic sensibility and an infinitely laxer set of local censorship laws, most of these Exorcist knock-offs emanated from Europe; and while they differed in their particulars, they were unanimous in their approach to their material, lifting the powerful central ideas from their model but then turning them into nothing more than an excuse for a long slide into the realm of sleazy exploitation; a journey which, in some cases, culminated in frank pornography. The fact that, without exception, these imitations focussed upon the sexual misconduct of their central character is indicative not merely of the cynicism that inspired their production, but also highlights in an interesting manner exactly where the human consciousness tends to draw a line in the sand.

The most notorious scene in The Exorcist is of course that in which the possessed Regan assaults herself with a crucifix: an act which is bewilderingly often referred to as masturbation; thus affixing a positive sexual meaning to an appalling act that is, in the most literal sense, self-abuse. This is a misreading which is perhaps less indicative of a lack of imagination – or the excess of a certain kind of imagination – than it is of William Peter Blatty’s success in finding a universal area of human discomfort, something from which the mind involuntarily shies away. Regan’s attack upon herself is, simultaneously, horrifying, obscene and blasphemous; it has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with transgression. (In the novel Regan does something else to herself as well, something that didn’t make the film; and again, the point isn’t so much that she does it, but that she does it in front of her mother.) In retaining this sequence, in  confronting its audience with this shocking act committed by a pubescent girl presented to us a priori as still just a child in behaviour and thought, The Exorcist crosses a line that film rarely dares to cross.

Pazuzu  Eshu

The Exorcist’s copyists, however, were far less intent upon confrontation than they were upon titillation, and they dealt with this aspect of their model by jettisoning it altogether. The vast majority of them simply added sufficient years to their protagonist’s age to put her safely over the age of consent, and then let rip with as much sex and violence as they could get away with – although the very sleaziest of the knock-offs, such as Andrea Bianchi’s Malabimba, pile on the sex to the extent of including hardcore inserts, while at the same time implying that their heroine is still of jailbait age. Only the most harmless of all the imitations, the Turkish Seytan, did not hesitate to retain a frankly childish heroine.

(It is psychologically telling that, while the child whose actual possession and exorcism fired William Blatty’s imagination in the first place was a boy, both he and everyone else since has nearly always placed at the heart of their story a girl – or most frequently, a woman. While I don’t intend to attempt an analysis of this phenomenon here, I will recommend – yet again – Carol Clover’s “Men, Women And Chainsaws” which, apart from bestowing upon the world of horror criticism the iconic term Final Girl, includes a chapter on possession films, and the psychology of why, in contrast to the real-world manifestations that inspire them, the victims of cinematic demonic possession are almost invariably female.)

And somewhere between the extremes of Seytan and Malabimba sits William Girdler’s Abby, certainly an exploitation rip-off, certainly playing the sex card – but when compared to its European counterparts, tame and inoffensive to the point of hilarity. There’s no kind of re-working of the crucifix scene here, no head-turning, and no urination or vomiting. (Okay, there is some drooling.) The only nudity is in silhouette; and while there’s plenty of talk about sex, the only on-screen action is a brief instance of marital love-making between Emmett and Abby – and we cut away almost as soon as they get down to business. The language in the film is pretty colourful, granted, but it is also as much informed by Shaft and its offspring, this film’s secondary source of inspiration, as by The Exorcist itself.

Truthfully, there’s very little here to upset anyone – or so you’d think. Yet Abby it was, of all The Exorcist’s bastard progeny, that would go down in history as the film that got sued out of theatres. Much of this was purely circumstantial, of course: of all the imitations, Abby was the only one that was born in the U.S.A. There are, moreover, times when honesty really isn’t the best policy; and William Girdler’s cheerfully frank admission to the press that Abby was intended “to ride on the shirttails” of The Exorcist cannot have done him very much good, legally speaking. As it happens, Abby was not alone in drawing upon its head the wrath of the Warner Bros. legal department: Film Ventures International, the distributors of Beyond The Door, the cut and dubbed local version of the Italian knock-off Chi Sei?, also found themselves on the receiving end of a Warners lawsuit; but whereas FVI decided to stand up and fight back – and finally won, the courts deciding that Warners didn’t “own” the sequences in question – over at AIP, Sam Arkoff caved in, yanking Abby from cinemas and burying it, in spite of its hugely profitable early run. (It’s hard to imagine that this shutdown didn’t somehow involve Sammy Boy getting his pockets lined.) In point of fact, Warner Bros. ultimately failed in their suit against Abby, too, but by that time in the pre-video age, the film had been consigned to oblivion, becoming one of those legendary productions of which cult fans often spoke but few of them had ever seen...

"I see you're admiring my pith helmet. I'm an archaeologist, you know!"

....until now, in this beautiful era when a determined film fan can get hold of almost anything.

Abby is a strange mixture of a film, its bedrock of hilariously bad film-making unexpectedly punctuated from time to time with intriguing flashes of originality and imagination. It’s certainly a lot more good-natured, and a lot more fun, that most of the other Exorcist rips; and if it isn’t any scarier than Seytan, at least it offers such richly ludicrous pleasures as the sight of tiny Carol Speed going berserk and tossing people around, and a nightclub exorcism highlighted by an exploding disco-ball. Of course, William Girdler had fish to fry here beyond those associated with William Friedkin’s smash-hit: Abby is also one of his two shots at jumping on the blaxploitation bandwagon. (The other, Sheba Baby, is generally considered one of the weaker Pam Grier vehicles.)

The attempt to infuse the story of The Exorcist with a black sensibility is actually one of its more interesting aspects, and Abby would have been a much better film had William Girdler stuck with what was, it seems, the original concept for this production, that is, a truly black version of the tale. Various stories floating about following the release of Abby indicate that star William Marshall was disappointed that the West African Yoruba religion ultimately played such a muted role in the film, in which he became involved on, evidently, the understanding that more of his input on the subject would be incorporated into the script. The final sense here is that at some point, Girdler & Co. simply concluded that a blatant Exorcist copy was likely to be more profitable than something more original....and a lot easier to make, too. That such a film was also more likely to attract a lawsuit did not, perhaps, occur to them at the time.

Whatever William Marshall’s feeling about the final content of Abby, his contribution is certainly one of its strengths. His natural air of authority makes him a perfect stand-in for Max von Sydow, while that velvety abyss of a speaking voice of his lends credibility to even the most dubious dialogue. (The impetus for Marshall’s casting here, however, was probably less his inherent suitability for the role than it was the financial success of Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream over the preceding two years.) Indeed, were it not for Marshall’s effortless professionalism, Abby would barely survive its opening scene. To be fair, part of the problem here is the poor sound quality that plagues the surviving copies of this film....part of the problem. The rest is that Marshall is surrounded by a group of young amateurs, who are playing Garnet Williams’ students; and the contrast between Marshall’s smooth and booming delivery and the kids' mumbling and stumbling is just painful. It’s a toss-up which of these "students" stays in the memory the longest: the girl who has one line – “But you haven’t opened your present!” – and is determined to make the most of it; or the boy who is “writing his thesis” – which he mispronounces “theses” – and then drags out to such an extent – “theeee-seees” – that it sounds distinctly like he’s saying, um, something else.

"Wanna help me with my theee-seees?"  "Ewww! Pervert!"

We are also introduced to one of Abby’s more endearing quirks here, its habit of laying on the Informed Attributes© with a shovel. In a speech you can’t imagine any kid, any time, anywhere, making to his teacher, one boy proceeds to describe Garnet Williams as, “A man with your intellect – your background – a world-wide traveller – an archaeologist – a humanitarian with a doctorate in theology – a PhD – ”

Now, I’m not saying that all this isn’t amusing – particularly the revelation that Garnet Williams has a doctorate and a PhD (no word on whether he has a theee-seees, though) – but in fact this scene is intended to convey a lot of information that actually pays off at the end of the film, and as it is the audience can’t find the wheat for all the chaff. Only someone inured to bad acting, too anal to leave well enough alone, and in the habit of devoting ridiculous amounts of time to trivial issues, could succeed in pulling the salient points out of this sequence.

In other words, lucky you.

It is here that we learn about the Yoruba religion of Nigeria, and in particular the cult of Eshu, who is described to us as “the most powerful of all earthly deities”; a “god of sexuality” – “a phallic symbol running rampant through the bush”, no less – “a trickster” and “a creator of whirlwinds and chaos”. The followers of Eshu are themselves tagged as “rejoicing in evil and violent acts”, as people who like to “take credit for natural disasters”. What isn’t made quite clear here is the two-faced nature of Eshu, who was a messenger between man and the gods, and who could be wicked or benevolent depending upon the influence of Obàtálá, the god who created both the world and the people in it, and whose human followers aspire to perfect morality. Eshu’s sometime-willingness to do good becomes important at the end of the film.

When Garnet Williams wards off evil, it stays warded off.

The scene between Dr Williams and his students climaxes with the opening of the much-vaunted present, which turns out to be a crucifix; not just any crucifix, either, but a hunk of metal that totally re-defines the term bling; it’s almost the size of the one that Benjamin Braddock blocked the church doors with at the end of The Graduate. Dr Williams thanks his students politely; and we are left with the mental image of him staggering around Nigeria bent double under the weight of this thing. And given that we know that this is an Exorcist rip-off, well, you can’t help but worry. If Abby had gone the whole hog and re-enacted its inspiration’s notorious use of a crucifix, we might have ended up with something akin to the impalement scene in Cannibal Holocaust.

One of Abby’s more shameless manoeuvres is giving us a priest who is also an archaeologist; and we cut to a cave in Nigeria where a pith-helmeted Dr Williams and his companions make an important find: a small carved ebony casket. Also like The Exorcist, Abby features a demon in a constant state of priapism; but whereas William Friedkin was content to make his point by silently showing us a statue of Pazuzu, William Girdler has a chuckling Dr Williams enumerate the signs of Eshu: the “whirlwind at the crossways”, the “hair in the shape of a cock’s-comb” and above all, “the erect penis”. (In fairness, I should say that all this is quite correct.) Realising that the object he holds is hollow, Williams tries to find the catch that will open it....and it’s exactly where you think it is. Williams, uh, turns the handle, the casket flies open – and something explodes from it. A mighty wind blasts through the cave, tossing Williams and his companions around like rag-dolls. This sequence concludes with yet another of Abby’s shameless rips, flashes of a demonic face, just like those of “Captain Howdy” that are used to such unnerving effect in The Exorcist. These, although not so effective, make a certain impact due to the fact that it is, unmistakably, Carol Speed under the make-up: this is our first glimpse of her in the film.

During the opening scene, we also learned about Dr Williams’ son, Emmett, who has a ministry in Louisville, Kentucky – William Girdler’s home-town, and where Abby was shot. No doubt it was entirely due to budgetary considerations that Abby was shot on location, but the result is to bestow upon the film a certain feeling of gritty reality that links it to its blaxploitation brethren, as well as distinguishing it rather pleasingly from its more obvious model. Emmett and his wife, Abby, are moving into their new home, a house left as a bequest to their church. Helping out are Abby’s mother, her brother, Cass, and Russell Lang, Emmett’s deacon, the latter of whom gives the most disturbing impression that when Urkel grew up, he unexpectedly went into the church.

Some people dream about William Marshall doing that to them.

You know what I was saying about Abby and its taste for Informed Attributes©? Well, here the film becomes intent upon letting us know that these are all good people. In fact, they are not just good people, but GOOD PEOPLE!!!!!!!!! Get a load of this dialogue:

Mama Potter:  “Honey, you must remember Who to thank for all your blessings!” 
Abby
:  “Oh, Mama! Now I can make a real home for Emmett! The kind he can be proud of!" 
Mama Potter
:  “It ain’t the size of the house that matters: it’s the love that makes any house a home.” 
Abby
:  “I got plenty of that, Mama!”

Or this:

Abby [hearing church bells]:  “You ever hear such a heavenly sound, Mama?” 
Emmett
:  “Just your voice in the choir, angel!”

Or this:

Emmett:  “All those hours that you put in for us is more than we could have expected.”
Russell
:  “Aw, shoot! With all you done do for the church, and the community?”

Or this:

Mama Potter:  Ain’t no sin in being proud of doing a good job, living a good life, and loving a good man!”

Or this, surely everyone’s favourite exchange:

Emmett:  “Hey, Mama! You know that Abby got her certificate for marriage counselling?”
Mama Potter
:  “Oh, really? On top of the youth program, and working with the junior choir!?”

Oh, yes: these are good people, all right; so very good, in fact, that barely ten minutes into the film, the audience is just praying for a Nigerian sex demon to wander on in and clout the lot of them upside the head.

And in this instance, prayer proves instantly efficacious. That night, a cold wind pours through Emmett and Abby’s new house, shaking the furniture and slamming the doors. The noise wakes Emmett up, and he shakes Abby awake too. She is, shall we say, rather sceptical as to the real reason she has been woken up. Emmett comments that Abby feels oddly cold to his touch. Abby murmurs back that Emmett knows a way to warm her up and, well, Emmett pretty much forgets all about the cold wind and the shaking furniture and the slamming doors. (<Homer Simpson> “I think I have a collapsed lung....but okay!” </Homer Simpson>)

Demonic possession, or just a damn good shampoo? You decide.

The following morning, while Abby is taking a shower, she is suddenly overcome by sexual desire, and begins to caress herself. This is a scene that, I imagine, had rather more impact back before every damn shampoo manufacturer in the world decided to try and convince people that washing your hair was the ultimate sexual experience. Abby’s contortions are rendered in silhouette against the shower curtain; and this is also how we see an amorphous entity rise up and engulf her....

And cut to Abby doing the laundry. Jarringly, we are left uncertain whether Abby has no memory of her watery encounter, or whether she is, so to speak, an habitual hair-washer. Suddenly, the door slams shut, trapping her; and then the wind returns at gale-force. Abby screams as she is buffeted around, and we catch further glimpses of Eshu. Then the wind recedes as abruptly as it arose....and the laundry door swings tauntingly open....

One of the more interesting sequences follows, one where Abby shows real symptoms of finding its own identity. Abby’s brother Cass comes to dinner, and the conversation turns to Garnet Williams. Intriguingly, the ensuing dialogue makes it clear that even though Emmett is the one leading the “correct” life, even though Garnet has to some extent turned away from his calling, Emmett is both jealous of his father and suffers from a sense of inferiority to him. “Nigeria!?” exclaims Cass upon hearing of Garnet’s latest adventure; and you immediately feel Emmett’s irritation with the interest others exhibit at his father’s comings and goings. Emmett may pride himself upon his life and his work – and don’t you worry, he does – but underlying everything is his uncomfortable conviction that, for all of it, he’s not half the man his father is. (The casting of William Marshall achieves that without effort, too.) Also of note is that both Abby and Cass are aware of Emmett’s hang-up – and tease him about it, while Emmett huffs. In short, this scene serves to make all three of them less unbearably perfect. In the end Cass proposes a toast to Emmett and Abby and their life – but Emmett’s glass shatters in his hand....

Did you know that, every seven minutes, a black person is born without soul? Please give generously.

Abby and her mother prepare chicken for a church social function....and Abby sails rather close to the wind. I should make it clear that although I’ve held this film’s dialogue against it, certainly it wasn’t intended to be taken at face value. There’s an air of jokiness about aspects of this film that, to my mind, doesn’t really do it any favours – but that’s a matter of personal taste. The Exorcist’s dead-straight seriousness is one of the things about that film that most appeals to me, particularly in this era of wink-wink horror movies; but I know that others feel that its solemnity tips it over the edge into pretentiousness. I’m reasonably sure that Abby’s we’re-all-so-damn-perfect dialogue wasn’t meant all that seriously – and I’m also prepared to give William Girdler further benefit of the doubt, and assume that it was intended as a joke that no-one in this film ever eats anything but chicken....and fried chicken, at that. The ice is a little thin, though. However, some redemption may be found in the fact that the first chicken-eating scene features Kentucky Fried Chicken – none of this KFC bullcrap, either, but the real deal – from and in Kentucky!

(Those drumstick-only buckets---- Tell me, were they just an invention of the movies, or did they actually exist? – because they certainly never made it to these shores.)

Aaaaanyway---- Abby cuts up chicken, and is suddenly overcome by the sight of the blood. She starts writhing and flapping her tongue around in a way that, rather incredibly, goes unnoticed by those in the room with her – until she lifts her knife and gashes open her forearm....

Abby’s doctor – who is played by Girdler regular Charles Kissinger – leaves the house muttering about “strange accidents”, and Abby sobs over events so convincingly, she renders her dialogue unintelligible except for something about “a scarrrrr on my arrrrrrm”. She recovers well enough to take her place in the church choir, however – and we get one of the scenes in this film that really divides people, as Carol/Abby sings a song of her own composition, “My Soul Is A Witness”.

Abby's singing inspires and uplifts the congregation.

There is a tendency for people to be either unnecessarily rude about Carol Speed’s singing, or unrealistically positive. To my ears, she sounds just as she should: like an enthusiastic amateur. The real problem is neither the song nor the singing, but the direction: William Girdler intercuts Abby singing with shots of the congregation, and the expressions on the parishioners are hilariously inappropriate. Hey, I’m sure these people didn’t get paid much – if anything – for their participation, but would it have killed them to smile? IT’S CALLED “ACTING”, PEOPLE!! As it is, I am divided in my affections between the man clutching his head as if in pain, and the young woman in the second row, rolling her eyes and chewing gum.

(The integrated congregation is a nice touch, though.)

Then Emmett leads the congregation in prayer, and Abby is overcome by a violent coughing fit. (Emmett’s side-glances at his wife through this whole sequence, which shift from smug preening at her talent to annoyance with her interruption of him, are another nice touch.) Deacon Urkel and Mama Potter finally try to steer Abby outside – and Abby attacks Russell, slamming him through a side-door and out onto the lawn where, emitting white drool, she whales on him until Mama drags her off.

In response to this incident, Emmett puts through a call to Nigeria – but when he gets his father on the phone, he can’t actually bring himself to confess the whole truth. Instead of admitting that his perfect life isn’t quite so perfect, and asking for his father’s help, Emmett only mutters about Abby not being herself. The result of Emmett’s tongue-tiedness is that his father gets no real sense of the seriousness of the situation. Had Emmett spoken out, Garnet would certainly have recognised the symptoms and probably turned up earlier, preventing a great deal of mayhem and saving several lives. As it is, he makes an off-hand promise to visit Louisville on his way home – in a few weeks.

"Did I do that!? Did I do that!? Did I do that!?"

We then get one of the most ludicrous juxtapositions in a film not exactly notable for its directorial choices, as Emmett decides that this of all moments is the time for a bit of kinky-ish sex. (Some Biblical kinky-ish sex, that is: it is Emmett, after all.) Anyway, Emmett strides into the bedroom clad only in a brief white towel and hits on his wife with the Song of Solomon:

“I am black and comely as the curtains of Solomon! O ye daughters of Jerusalem, let me kiss you with the kisses of my mouth, for thy love is better than wine!”

My guess is that Emmett was expecting a response along the lines of, “His mouth is full of sweetness. And he is wholly desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend.” That isn’t quite what he gets.

“What makes you call it love?” jeers Abby. “I want to know why you call sex love! It’s just an animal lust, isn’t it? I’m not your ho’! Shit, you ain’t got enough to satisfy me!”

And Abby underscores her point by planting her foot hard in Emmett’s crotch, bouncing up and down on the bed and laughing hysterically as he collapses in pain.

The next day, Cass finds Emmett sitting morosely on his front steps. Emmett ums and ahs, and finally asks Cass if Abby ever did drugs, a notion that Cass dismisses with scorn – which under the circumstances does little to comfort Emmett. But Emmett’s discomfiture has hardly begun. He returns home to find a calm and composed Abby conducting a pre-marital counselling session....but her demeanour, and her voice, change as soon as he enters the room. “All men are not created equal!” she growls at the female half of the engaged couple. “Better make sure what he’s got first!” With which, she rips open the bodice of her dress, snarling, “I’m gunna take ol’ long George upstairs and fuck the shit outta him!”

And again, the weakness of the bit players does the film real harm: the lack of reaction from the couple of the receiving end of Abby’s tirade is absolutely gut-busting. Ol’ long George himself, indeed, seems no more than mildly interested as Abby bares her breasts at him....when he can be bothered looking.

"George! Hey, I am talking to you! GEORGE!!"

Emmett drags Abby upstairs, where briefly, she cries and begs for his help – but then the possessing force takes over again. “You wanna fuck Abby, don’t you?” it growls. “I’ll show what a real marriage ceremony is! You are gunna love and obey!”

And Abby tosses Emmett onto the bed and leaps astride him, slapping him repeatedly and laughing....but whether she follows through on her threat of marital rape is left to our imaginations, as we freeze-frame on Abby’s distorted face....

And you know---- I do get annoyed by this film, entertaining as I find it, because William Girdler and Gordon Layne were really onto something here: a serious horror film about the corruption of a religiously committed couple; the corruption of a marriage. But they didn’t want to know – if indeed they even realised it. Instead, they show themselves somewhat ahead of their time, in terms of their refusal to treat their own material with any respect: it is during this scene that Emmett utters the film’s defining line of dialogue:

“My God, Abby! Whatever possessed you to do a thing like that!?”

Trying taking it seriously after that.

In one of the film’s less credible moments – reflect on that, people – the “ill” Abby gets a visit from the church’s organist, Mrs Wiggins. Somehow I doubt that, under the circumstances, Emmett would be encouraging visitors. Abby reacts with more sexual taunting, and some “fun and games” – terrorising and then assaulting her guest into a fatal heart attack in a sequence punctuated by more flashes of Eshu. Emmett enters the house to hear a throaty voice upstairs promising someone that they are going to learn to love killing.... This is by far the most effective of the possessed voice sequences, for the rather unfortunate reason that Carol Speed isn’t in it. It isn’t her fault, of course, but there is very little effort made anywhere here to convince us that the demonic voice is really issuing from Abby. The worst instance is the attack upon Mrs Wiggins, where the voice never stops, but Abby’s lips don’t move. The voice itself is also somewhat lacking, certainly in comparison to the unearthly rumbles and howls that emanate from Regan McNeil. (This is true in spite of the contribution of an experienced voice actor, Bob Holt, who among other things would later work on Gremlins.) Abby’s possessed voice is gruff but hardly frightening. I’ve seen one review of Abby that compares it to the voice of Chucky. Sadly, that’s pretty much on the mark.

"Hmm.... Maybe I should have gargled eggs, like Girdler wanted."

And so Emmett finds Abby bouncing on the bed again and laughing over Mrs Wiggins’ body; and we get another freeze-frame of Abby’s shocked face as she briefly comes to herself. The same doctor attends the death scene. He reacts angrily when Emmett suggests that his earlier prescription, issued after the knife incident, might be to blame for Abby’s, uh, “odd” behaviour, making explicit what at the time of the arm-slashing he only muttered under his breath.

The frightened Emmett cracks, phones Nigeria, and begs his father to come home at once, even confessing his fear that Abby may have killed someone. She has, he weeps, “Blasphemed, and defiled everyone” – does he mean himself? He concludes that, in his belief, Abby’s problem is, “Something that only you can deal with.” Garnet promises to get the first flight back; and the conversation ends with the two men understanding one another perfectly, although neither the ‘p’-word nor the ‘e’-word has been spoken. All at once, a terrible storm strikes Garnet’s camp, and the wind rips through his office....

And now, having done a fair job for the past while – flashes of Eshu aside – of not reminding us of its source, Abby goes all out by checking Abby into hospital and running a barrage of tests on her, the only one we see much of being one of those inflicted upon Regan. The tests fail – of course – to find any organic cause for Abby’s behaviour, and the neurologist recommends a psychiatric evaluation, leading to one of the film’s more embarrassing moments, as Mama Potter protests the diagnosis with the line, “Now, mebbe I don’t understand all those big words you bin using....” The hell - !? As far as we know, the only “big word” used was psychiatrist....which Mama just used herself as well. Oh, well. At least she didn’t try to tell us it was Da Voodoo. Emmett drops in to see Abby, who is sweet as pie while the nurse is in the room, but turns on him as soon as they are alone.

"I cannot stand one more day of this hospital food!"

“I wanna thank you for calling that motherfucker of a father of yours!” possessed Abby spits at Emmett. “Give him my worst regards! – and tell him I’ll be waiting for him!”

So....the inhabiting demon is simply using its host to get close to the archaeologist-priest who released it from its captivity? Now, where on earth have I heard that before...?

But to be fair, the hospital visit is where Abby and The Exorcist part company on a pretty permanent basis; and we get one of the film’s real highlights here as Abby, ahem, checks herself out – by kicking the lily ass of anyone unwise enough to get in her way. (“I’m going home, bitch!” she announces to her startled nurse.) So it is that when Emmett and Garnet arrive home, Abby is already there, in full-on sweet-as-pie mode (sweet as pie à la mode mode?); a mood which lasts just as long as it takes her to get an opportunity of groping her father-in-law. Garnet throws her off, intoning, “In the name of God - !!”

That’s no way to speak to a supreme Orisha!” retorts Abby/Eshu.

And spewing threats and obscenities, she tosses first Emmett and then his father across the room. And at this point we sit up and take notice, because not only has this demon just thrown William Marshall – William Marshall!! – into a wall, but when Abby makes her escape under the cover of a summoned wind-storm, Garnet responds by calling on Eshu for help.

Some people dream about doing that to William Marshall.

And indeed, from a theological point of view, the final section of Abby is quite fascinating. Towards the end of the film, having spent some time taking the demon’s measure, Garnet decides that it is not in fact Eshu, but a rather pathetic Eshu wannabe. And if this is not Eshu, but instead a minor demon jealous of that deity’s status – not to mention his endowment – and who presumably was imprisoned by Eshu himself, then the constant harping of possessed Abby upon the sexual dimensions of every man who comes near her makes perfect sense; this is a demon with issues. (Or perhaps I’m giving William Girdler and Gordon Layne far too much credit, and that was all they could think of to make a woman possessed by a sex demon say.) And this scenario leads to something so very interesting, it nearly redeems the whole film....

Possessed Abby takes Emmett’s car and heads downtown, looking for somewhere to commit a little mayhem. In the house, the storm recedes under Garnet’s cries to Eshu; and Emmett takes advantage of the lull by running out into the road and car-jacking a parishioner.

There are number of scenes in this aspiring blaxploitationer that reveal very clearly that it was made not just by white people, but possibly rather naive white people, at that, and this is one of them: the bereft woman, giving no sign that she recognises Emmett as a man of the cloth, merely exclaims in an exasperated voice, “What are you doing? Don’t do that!” Fortunately for Emmett, the report of his car-theft – we are given every reason, by the way, to assume that the phone-call to the cops was made from Emmett’s own house – reaches his brother-in-law, who has also just heard about Abby’s spectacular exit from the medical centre. On Cass’s arrival, Garnet takes him aside and tries to explain what’s going on....

Cruising unavailingly, Emmett finally pulls over and goes into a phone-box – and in one of the film’s better touches, the phone immediately rings. It’s Abby – or Eshu – or whoever – and it taunts him that, “It’s Abby’s time to live!” Meanwhile, Garnet’s “explanation” to Cass isn’t going very well....although we learn here that Eshu “pushed aside” the other Orishans to “capture the power of sexuality”, and that he uses this to destroy his enemies.

"Take me here - now - under the disco-ball!"

Emmett interrupts with a phone-call, reporting that he heard from Abby, and could hear dance music in the background – “Maybe a bar!” “A bar?” responds Cass obtusely. “Abby doesn’t drink.” “Abby doesn’t do any of the things she’s been doing!” retorts the understandably nettled Emmett. Finally, Cass agrees to meet Emmett so that they can hunt Abby down together, while Garnet stays behind to prepare for the battle ahead.

We then catch up with Abby in a nightclub/bar with a decor that could make your eyeballs bleed, and patronised by – it has to be said – some of the least funky black people ever. (Except maybe for the guy who thinks he’s Stevie Wonder....and the other guy in a pimp hat that would make Antonio Fargas weep with envy.) Amongst the crowd is the unfunkiest of the unfunky, Deacon Urkel, on whom Abby zeroes in like a heat-seeking missile. They leave together under the pretext of Russell driving Abby home.

(Quoth Russell cheerfully, “I'm not driving the hearse - there’s no more funerals until after Easter!")

They end up parking by a lake, but Russell, um, has trouble meeting Abby’s demands. “I can’t stop thinking about your husband!” he wails. Abby responds by taking off her wedding-ring and throwing it away, provoking Russell to an unwise exclamation of, “Jesus!”

Exactly what happens next is unclear, except that the car fills with smoke; and while the car is rocking, there’s probably no point in knocking....

"I can't stop thinking about your husband!" "That's okay. I can't stop thinking about Sybil Danning."

Back in the land of unfunky black people (don’t believe me? – they’re slow-dancing to a muzak knock-off of “Do That To Me One More Time”),  Abby is soon busy with a white guy who, discredit where it’s due, is so unfunky he makes the others at least seem funky: his way of picking up a woman is to do a bad W.C. Fields impression (Really, is there any other kind?) It works, though – he thinks – and he and Abby head upstairs....which is the last we see of Whitey.

Meanwhile, Emmett and Cass are exploring the various by-ways of Louisville, and Cass comments disinterestedly while lighting a cigarette, “Your father said something about this demon in Abby being something he accidentally released; and, uh, now it’s out to destroy him. Come on, we got a lot of bars to hit.”

“WHAT!?” says Emmett.

Sadly, we don’t get the chance to pursue this as it deserves, because Cass and Emmett finally hit upon the right nightclub. Cass goes to the office to phone Garnet, and Emmett goes to the men’s room to avoid a pushy waitress....and in that gap, Abby reappears and picks up two men. Emmett emerges, sees her, and tries to drag her away – and, long story short, ends up on the receiving end of a game of “Strip The Preacher”. Fortunately for him, Cass finally gets off the damn phone. Unable to force his way through the mocking crowd, Cass pulls his gun and fires into the air.

"Your father released a demon, and it's going to kill Abby, and, uh, I dunno, I wasn't really listening...."

And how do they react, these hard-bitten patrons of a nightclub in the most disreputable quarter of Louisville? By squealing and running away. All except Abby’s play-mates, who guffaw appreciatively as she tosses first Cass and then Emmett across the room....but have the smirks wiped off their faces when she dishes out the same treatment to them. “What do you think of my powers now?” chuckles possessed Abby.

“Not very much,” says Garnet from the doorway.

Showtime.

Truthfully, the exorcism gets off on a pretty poor foot, with Garnet flashing the Bling From Hell – I mean, Heaven – and possessed Abby fleeing it in slow motion with arms out-stretched, looking, in her short white coat,  rather like a demented seagull. Then, after much struggling and swearing and some animated “zapping” powers, Emmett and Cass get a firm hold on Abby, who reacts by – sprouting possessed eyebrows!! Eek!!

Garnet here voices his opinion that the inhabiting demon is “a very minor deity”, not Eshu at all. The two then exchange pleasantries in several languages – Greek, and Hindi, and finally Yoruba – and Garnet shakes his head. “Why on earth would you choose Eshu to mimic?” he marvels, more in sorrow than in anger, as the demon fumes.

"Lemme go, or I swear I'll sic the eyebrows on you!"

And then, having begun the proceedings in the usual way, with the sign of the cross and a call upon the Christian God, Garnet here dons a daishiki over his crucifix and his collar, and calls upon Ọlọrun, the Yoruban God. And it is to Ọlọrun that Garnet prays for the deliverance of Abby’s soul....

....and then he draws his crucifix from beneath the daishiki, and joins hands with Cass and Emmett, who are maintaining their grip on Abby – albeit shakily, in Emmett’s case. And as they pray together, they are enveloped in “the Christ-light”....

So what is the implication here? That all religions are really one, although with different faces? Or that the deities of different religions co-exist? – and not only co-exist, but upon occasion, co-operate?

The demon makes an unavailing attempt to trick Emmett into helping it find another body to inhabit – it wants Garnet’s, understandably. (Which probably doesn't endear it to Emmett.) The Christ-light recedes, and Garnet begins to perform a Yoruban banishment ceremony, during which Abby exudes that nasty white drool again.

And as the ceremony concludes, possessed Abby shrieks in agony, and the bar erupts in a series of explosions. The mirrors shatter, and the juke-box goes up in flames. So does the disco-ball. NOOOOO!!!!!!

NOOOOO!!!!!!

(This sequence contains by far the most effective use of demonic subliminal images, including a weirdly disturbing Afro-Demon alternative make-up, probably because here they actually are subliminal, instead of rather too heavy-handedly inserted, as they are earlier on.)

Garnet opens that wooden casket from Nigeria, and the power that is loose in the room swirls around and around, and finally enters it....to be trapped once more. And Abby is saved....

How much better a film could Abby have been, had it had the nerve to separate itself more fully from its inspiration, and work towards creating its own identity? The Yoruba elements of the film are easily the most interesting thing about it; what a pity it is that the tale that William Marshall envisaged never eventuated.

And you know--- There’s a wonderful irony about Abby, although I sincerely doubt that it ever occurred to William Girdler: but truly, as the inhabiting demon is to Eshu, so Abby is to The Exorcist. I am tempted, like Garnet Williams, to shake my head more in sorrow than in anger at this film and ask, “Why on earth...?” The final section of Abby, exploding nightclub and all, makes for a far more compelling conclusion than we could have expected at the outset, or that the film in its entirety really deserves. You tend to come out of it feeling that you’ve seen a better film than you actually have.

This man can kick your ass in four languages and two different religions.

But this just wouldn’t be a William Girdler film if it didn’t spoil everything with a final moment of ineptitude; and here, as Emmett and Abby exchange a touching embrace, we cannot help but notice that – Abby still has her possessed eyebrows on!

And actually, I tell a lie! – there are two concluding moments of ineptitude. This film – man, you’d never see this nowadays! – goes for the cheerful kicker ending, showing us Abby and Emmett happy and reunited, and leaving for a holiday.

Yes. Well. I guess we’re just supposed to forget about Abby’s three murders. And Emmett’s Grand Theft Auto.....

Want a second opinion of Abby? Visit 1000 Misspent Hours - And Counting.

Eshu



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----posted 23/03/2008