Film Flashback: Abby

Abby (1974), dir. William Girdler, American International Pictures

Plagiarism and the movie industry often go hand in hand. “If the film’s budget is under a million, it’s a rip-off; but if it’s over a million? Then it’s a homage” as the saying goes. Whenever you have one film that is successful, you can count on there being dozen of similar films. True today and in the 1970’s, especially in the wake of such films like The Exorcist.

Abby in particular was deemed so much of a rip off that Warner Bros. sued AIP to have Abby pulled from theaters. Was such action warranted?

We open with a priest (William Marshall) leaving for Africa. Once he arrives, he discovers a temple dedicated to Eshu, a trickster often associated whirlwinds and sex. Opening a small casket unleashes a terrific gale, knocking the men down, while on the other side of the globe (Kentucky to be exact), the priest’s son Emmett and his wife Abby have just settled into their new home when they are woken up by a fierce shaking and howling winds.

From there things get worse. Abby’s body is cold to the touch, she grows increasingly profane, but only in the presence of her husband, and then there is the deep guttural voice she snarls in when she talks.

This is an odd movie. William Marshall shines, conveying a deep dignity and power, even when the other actors seem to be unaware of how to pronounce their lines. The plot points that parallel to The Exorcist are numerous and have been mentioned elsewhere. Using Carol Speed as the victim, rather than a child, does move the film away from its roots and it is overall better for it. As the possessed Abby, Speed chews up the scenery and seems to be having a great time mowing through the cast. The final confrontation, done under the serene glow of a disco ball, echoes the final confrontation between Father Merrin and Regan, yet just different enough; although I have read where the scene in question is close enough to The Eerie Midnight Horror Show to be accused of ripping that off as well.

“Abby doesn’t need a man anymore…the devil is her lover now!”