The first of the Exorcist rip-offs to hit American theaters, Abby was released by American International Pictures (AIP) late in 1974 and, according to anecdotal evidence, did boffo box-office business right out of the gate. Unfortunately, Warner Brothers, the company that had released The Exorcist, noticed how well it was doing and decided to take legal action. Apparently, Warner Brothers thought that they had some kind of monopoly on movies about demonic possession, so they got an injunction against AIP, which took Abby out of release after it had been in theaters about a month. Once the film was pulled, AIP never put it back into circulation, even after the legal matters were settled. And on the shelf it still remains, having never legally been released to television or home video.
Before I get around to actually discussing the film at hand, I’ve got to take a few sentences to declare my love for all things AIP. Founded in the 1950s by James Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff, American International Pictures entered the movie business as a distributor but soon moved into production. Jim and Sam discovered that cheaply-made black-and-white double-features targeted at teenagers could make them some scratch, so they churned ‘em out two-by-two in the late 1950s, bringing us such cinematic masterpieces as I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Invasion of the Saucer-Men. In the 1960s, they made an even bigger dent in popular culture by bringing the world the Beach Party films, the Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe pictures, and, towards the end of the decade, a series of “youth pictures” such as The Wild Angels, The Trip, and Wild in the Streets. By the 1970s, AIP was Hollywood’s biggest independent film studio, and by the end of the decade it was making its play to become one of the big boys, releasing films such as Love at First Bite and The Amityville Horror that made some major money. Unfortunately, AIP was having to spend more than it had ever spent before, and that, coupled with a few expensive flops (such as Meteor) caused founder Sam Arkoff to sell AIP late in 1979. Thus ended an era, the likes of which will never be seen again. Yes, I’m a major AIP fan, and starting with this review, all AIP films will be noted, along with a count of how many I’ve reviewed. Check the end of the entry to see what I mean. Okay, now back to Abby.
After waiting over thirty years to see Abby, I can’t say that I was disappointed by it. The first half-hour or so has some especially good things going for it. There’s a certain vibe to films of the 1970s that were made outside of Hollywood (Abby was filmed in Louisville, Kentucky) which lends them a certain verisimilitude that makes them fascinating to watch, and this one has that vibe in spades. The groovy music score also adds to the ambience. There are some tracking shots inside Abby’s house that are particularly moody, as are some nighttime exteriors of the house. The actors are all pretty much up to the task, especially William Marshall, who was just coming off a pair of pictures in which he starred as Blacula. It’s always great to see Austin Stoker in a film, and Carol Speed acquits herself nicely in a role that must have been great fun to play.
The demon that possesses Abby is a Nigerian sex deity, and so Abby, a preacher’s wife, does a complete 180-degree turn in terms of her personality. There’s a scene fairly early in her possession where Abby attempts to counsel a married couple, but during the session the demon takes over and causes Abby to say…some VERY inappropriate things. It’s one of those moments that is both shocking in its audacity and funny because of its audacity. After thoroughly enjoying the first 90% of the film, I found only the climactic exorcism to be disappointing. After what had gone before, I was expecting something waaaaay over the top; instead, there was a little levitating and some foaming at the mouth, and then it was over. Of course, director William Girdler didn’t have the financial backing of a major studio behind him (in fact, the film was independently financed and only picked up for distribution by AIP), so I really shouldn’t have expected too much.
The film is interesting in that it takes both a Protestant and an African-American perspective on demonic possession, which is diametrically opposed to the perspective from which The Exorcist springs. The two films would make a fascinating double-feature, in that Abby is addressing the same phenomenon from a completely different worldview. Still, there are similarities between the two, which is what prompted Warner Brothers to slap the injunction on it in the first place. Warner Brothers tried the same stunt on the Italian Exorcist rip-off Beyond the Door, but its American distributor decided to fight the lawsuit in court and won, thus paving the way for all manner of possession flicks.
For more information about Abby and the other films of director William Girdler, you should check out Patty Breen’s amazing website devoted to the man and his films, WilliamGirdler.com. Patty is one of the nicest webmistresses on the planet, and, after your visit, make sure that you drop her a line telling her how much you enjoyed her site. In fact, you should probably check it out now, then come back to watch the Abby video clip below:
Now, since Abby has yet to secure an official DVD release, and I just know that you’re dying to see it, here’s your chance. Someone named Jeff with the handle “209Fever” has posted the entire film on YouTube in six parts. Here’s the first part–watch it quick before it gets taken down!