Abby (1974, similar to The Exorcist).

2017 October Horror Challenge VI – Abby

This is it, the legendary almost lost AIP film that Warner Bros. didn’t want to compete with.

How to watch it:
YouTube
DVD

Abby is “a Black version of The Exorcist,” but unlike The Exorcist‘s more shameless ripoffs like The Antichrist or Night Child, this was the one that Warner Bros. attempted to sue out of existence. And it’s no surprise, unlike many of those other knockoffs Abby is actually a good movie, one that director William Girdler was worried about Warner Bros. shutting down long before the film was even released.1  On top of that, Abby was enjoying a successful run in theaters. It made $4 million in one month2 off a $400,000 budget before Warner Bros. pulled the plug. The Exorcist ended up being the most profitable horror movie ever until IT came out earlier this year, but for a brief second there Abby was becoming actual competition.3

Our story opens up with Bishop Garnet Williams (Blacula and Othello himself, William Marshall) hanging out with his colleagues and family talking about his upcoming archaeology exhibition to Nigeria. Within the movie’s first few moments we see a strong thematic difference from The Exorcist that lets us know Abby will stand on its own. The Exorcist‘s two principle priests are uncertain about their place from the minute the film opens. But Bishop Williams (the film’s Father Merrin equivalent) is a much more confident and stabilizing presence throughout the entire film.

Carol Speed quickly switches from states of normalcy, confusion, and maximum scenery chewing while possessed.

Now, as an American International Pictures production, the budget here isn’t even in the same galaxy The Exorcist, but the script and cast works within those limitations to deliver a movie that is unique enough to stand on its own not just from The Exorcist, but from possession horror films in general with a few unexpected twists and turns that go beyond Abby’s ordeal leading to uninhibited sexual desire. These outbursts seem hokey at first. But later we see a brief moment that wouldn’t be out of place in Raw as Abby loses control of herself while gleefully preparing dinner. Eshu is way more chatty than Pazuzu, and the film, intentionally or not, leaves the door open for the possibility that Eshu isn’t controlling Abby’s actions so much as bringing to the forefront fears, desires, and urges that were always in her life.

Eventually, as Abby’s episodes get wilder, more supernatural, and more potentially lethal, our heroes figure out that Abby is possessed by the spirit of Eshu. In the film, we’re lead to believe Eshu is a notoriously evil sex god, but in actual Yoruba Eshu serves as more of a trickster one petitions to make contact with other gods.4. The inconsistency seems like the typical casual use of religious canon for cheap thrills, but while the movie is cheap, this early discrepancy ends up not only being acknowledged but playing a major role in the film’s climax. This is thanks to William Marshall’s insistence that some bits of the script be changed to more properly incorporate Yoruba more appropriately into the film.

In The Exorcist, Merrin quickly corrects Karras that “There is only one,” when Karras tries to figure out the demon’s identity. Abby neatly inverts this by having Bishop Williams’ knowledge and embracing of the existence of deities and important figures from multiple faiths be the key to his spiritual power and victory.

It all works to overcome the budget, giving us a merging of Yoruba and Christianity unique in horror films. Some people find this extremely cheesy, but framing it around a tight knit group of family and friends whose faith and acknowledgement of both is already strong gives us a cathartic and fun complement to The Exorcist‘s more isolated and hopeless characters. A perfect double feature.

But hey, yeah so cheesy and stupid, I mean it’s not like you’d ever see the people who produced The Exorcist try to sue Abby out of existence and then try for the exact same thing in an Exorcist sequel three years later but with a mostly white cast. It’d be idiotic and make for one of the worst movies ever made because it was done without the extra heart William Marshall’s contributions to Abby added to the story, you’d just have a multi-million dollar farce. You would never see the producers of the Exorcist attempt to erase Abby from existence and then make a sequel to their own movie that attempts the exact same spiritual deception and duality for its female protagonist but in the most inept ways possible. Hell if they did that they’d probably be so stupid they’d have Pazuzu based in “Africa” instead of the Middle East. Not even a particular nation or region in Africa, they’d just go to “Africa” to get James Earl to give a lecture about locusts or something. I mean that would just be the dumbest thing ever. The chances of that happeni-

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  1. Abby in Brief” – A 2007 interview with J. Patrick Kelly
  2. About $25 million today.
  3. The Exorcist had a small, twenty-six theater opening before it really blew up, but it took in about $66 million over its first year in the USAbby‘s growing popularity really did briefly put it on track to match The Exorcist.
  4. Tales of Yoruba Gods and Heroes – Courlander, Harold  Crown Pub 1973.
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Chris Rasa
Chris’ only known functions are learning about video games, watching movies, and writing about both. Much of his published work can be found on Hardcore Gaming 101, where he has worked as a contributing editor since 2004 and, more recently contributed to HG101’s ever growing selection of books.