William Marshall - Blacula himself! - plays Bishop Garnett Williams, who is heading to Africa to so some archaeological research into the Yoruba religion. The good Bishop tells us that there’s a sect that worships Eshu, a sexual god, and that sect engages in willful acts of evil as part of their religion. While in a cave in Nigeria the Bishop discovers a puzzle box dedicated to Eshu - he can tell because it has a carving of a dude with an enormous boner - and opens it up. A huge wind blows in the cave, knocking everybody around and unleashing a terrifying power… that immediately flies to Louisville.
See, back in Louisville is the Bishop’s son Emmett, who is married to the titular Abby. Emmett - Terry Carter, the original Col. Tigh from the original Battlestar Galactica! - is a reverend, and he and his bride - The Mack’s Carol Speed! - have just moved into a new home supplied by the church. Abby is a super duper do gooder, who has just received her certificate as a marriage counselor and she works with a youth program and she’s in the choir and later we see her working in a soup kitchen. She’s a total saint.
But not for long. Abby is taking a shower when she suddenly starts cumming like crazy, barely even touching herself. But we know what the real cause is - the shadow of Eshu envelopes her as she’s jilling off in the shower! Jilling off in a fairly PG way, I should add. Where’s the sploitation portion of this?
Eshu’s influence slowly takes over Abby. She gets terrorized by high winds in the laundry room, but seems willing to forget it. The next day she’s preparing chicken for the church (this seems to be the third or fourth day in a row where Abby and family eat chicken. Fried chicken is prominent in the early scenes of this film. Which isn’t racist or anything) and she suddenly stabs herself in the arm.
A white doctor thinks that Abby was trying to kill herself but Emmett can’t believe it. Abby makes a pretty quick recovery and returns to church to sing a hymn, but as soon as Emmett launches into his sermon she starts coughing and choking. When the local funeral director tries to help her outside she throws him through a door, jumps on him, humps him and starts dribbling cream of mushroom soup all over his face.
That night Emmett uses the kind of come on that I guess reverends use - he comes out of the shower in only a towel and begins quote sexy Bible verse. Abby, understandably, kicks him right in the balls.
Emmett’s concerned and reaches out to his dad in Nigeria, who is too busy to help, as well as Abby’s cop brother. Nobody knows what the hell is up, but when he comes home to find Abby in a marriage counselling session the shit really begins to hit the fan. As soon as Emmett shows up Abby’s voice changes and she tells the woman she’s counselling to make sure her husband-to-be is packing enough meat. Then she offers to take the dude upstairs and fuck him; Abby tears open her shirt (which we see from behind. If it wasn’t for the endless swearing Eshu does through Abby this movie would be rated G). Later that night Abby essentially rapes Emmett. That demon is HORNY.
Shit gets really real the next day - the church organist comes by to visit Abby. Our heroine, speaking in a low, Exorcist-inspired demon voice, confronts the organist with the lies of her own life, and then scares her to death.
Abby has three ways of talking - there’s regular Abby, who is a sweet girl. Then there’s Dixie Fried Abby, which is when she talks like some kind of ghetto slut. Those are both Carol Speed. But then there’s the demon, which sounds like a soul brother with a three packs of menthols habit; it’s fun watching Speed sort of lip synch to that voice.
Eshu also pops up on screen a couple of times in ‘subliminal’ shots obviously inspired by The Exorcist. The film’s version of Eshu is amazing - all lumpy prosthetics and green make-up. In the final exorcism Abby sort of turns into Eshu, but once the demon is pulled from her body she still has the make-up on. Low budget filmmaking!
Finally Emmett takes Abby to the hospital, and we’re subjected to a series of shots of Abby being tested that seem to be lifted wholecloth from The Exorcist. I’d say this is really the only section of the film where ‘copyright infringement’ really comes into play, and even then - it’s just some shots of Abby under machines.
But William Girdler does what William Friedkin wouldn’t - he has Abby stage an escape from the hospital, which leads to a pretty funny chase with a dozen doctors and nurses running down a staircase that is supposed to be in a health care facility but looks like it’s in an abandoned factory.
Meanwhile, Emmett has finally convinced his dad to come back from Nigeria, and they confront Abby at home. She tries to fuck Bishop Garnett, and then Eshu calls up a cyclone in the living room and she escapes. Then the film’s single oddest choice happens - Emmett runs outside and waves down the first car that comes. He then yanks the white lady driver out of it and steals the car. WHAT.
Abby takes off for the sleazy section of Louisville, and here the padding comes into full effect. We spend some time in a couple of nightclubs, and director William Girdler allows us to luxuriate in the finest pimpery the time period has to offer. I’m talking huge collars and polyester jackets and massive afros and generic funk music on the soundtrack.
At the bar Abby finds the funeral director she previously puked up on; she takes him out to his car and tries to fuck him but he can’t get it up. This infuriates Eshu who does… something. I’m not sure exactly. There’s a shot from outside the car, which shakes and rocks and fills with billowing white smoke while someone screams and Eshu rants. I think we’re supposed to believe that she snapped his neck… but is she then fucking his corpse? Again, this is an exploitation film, isn’t it? Give me something good!
Emmett is wandering around looking for Abby, and he hooks up with Abby’s brother, who is able to get him off the carjacking charges, I guess. As they walk around talking about how crazy this shit is - and as Garnett explains that the demon isn’t after Abby but really wants to fuck his shit up - Abby picks up a random white dude who happens to be in another black club. She picks him up by saying his dick is too small, which is an interesting tactic. And that guy’s fate is the most terrifying of all: he simply disappears from the motion picture. No clue what happens to him, not even a confused shot of a smoke filled car. They walk out of the club and poof! that’s it.
Emmett and the brother finally stumble into the club where Abby’s been picking up her paramours. Showing her picture around they find out that she’s coming back, so they set up shop to wait. At this point Girdler pads the movie out some more with shots of the funked up clientele, and a sequence in which a group of dancers disprove the racist idea that black people can inherently dance well.
Abby shows up, sure enough, and picks up TWO guys, one of whom is wearing just a fringed leather vest. Both have the kind of afros that make you terrified of them sitting in front of you in a movie theater. Everybody dances really badly. Really, really badly.
Before Abby can take these two suckers out of the bar, Emmett shows up. He tries to take his wife away, but the two guys hold him down; Abby throws a drink in his face and starts stripping him while everybody in the bar jeers at him. There’s not a huge sense of community in the room, you know?
Before things get really out of hand the cop brother, who had been calling Bishop Garnett for help, shows up. He shoots his gun up in the air, clearing out most of the crowd, but leather vest guy will not leave. Watching Abby throw her brother and husband around like rag dolls only turns him on, it seems - until she slides him down the bar like a glass of whiskey in a Western.
And then the bar is cleared out, Bishop Garnett arrives and the exorcism begins. In the bar.
Things get pretty weird in the final minutes of Abby. Bishop Garnett throws on a dashiki to cast out the unclean spirit. Abby briefly levitates, her touch electrocutes her brother and husband, and she speaks in African tongues. But then Bishop Garnett reveals that this isn’t actually Eshu. It’s kind of a strange reveal - were they saving Eshu for the sequel? - and it comes from nowhere and serves no purpose. There are explosions and the bar’s disco ball acts like a wrecking ball when it hits a row of booze bottles. There’s vomiting and screaming and the exorcism is complete. Abby is clean, and the spirit is returned to the puzzle box. Everybody is okay! Except for the church organist and the funeral director. And probably that white guy Abby picked up. They’re all dead.
Director William Girdler was a master of hyper low budget films - movies like Three On A Meathook and The Zebra Killer - as well directed as a couple of better known Hollywood low budget affairs, such as Grizzly and The Manitou. Girdler, who died young, only worked professionally for six years, but his filmography is amazing. There’s not a truly bad picture in there, although many are technically terrible. Girdler had a magic touch for trash - watch Sheba Baby or Day of the Animals and deny it. I dare you.
I don’t know that Abby is his best film, but it’s better than it has any right to be. The film is really only hemmed in by the fact that it isn’t particularly shocking or over the top. Carol Speed certainly gives it her all, really hamming it up as the possessed Abby, but the movie’s demure aspect - especially in a film about a SEX DEMON - defangs it.
Carol Speed is what makes it all work; Girdler’s visuals aren’t exactly heart stopping and all the male actors come across as more than a little stiff. I imagine they’re mostly confined by the churchy goodness they have to display; Abby almost feels like a movie you could comfortably show to a church group, not a blaxploitation film.
The African religious stuff is, believe it or not, all real. Apparently William Marshall was very into it, and had been promised the ability to inject even more true Yoruba mythology into the script - which didn’t happen. Still, there really is a spirit called Eshu, who is a force of chaos and sexuality.
Abby was a pretty big hit upon release, but AIP quickly pulled it after Warner Bros came breathing down their necks. The film has never gotten a decent home video release, with some bootlegs floating around and at least one DVD that’s just a VHS rip. It’s a very campy, very loose film - scenes just sort of stumble one after the other without a lot of connective tissue - but it’s quite fun.