With all the discussion regarding black horror films that I started in the weekend box office report yesterday, one commenter raised the point that because of close ties to the black church, many black filmgoers would have problems going to see black horror films that deal with the supernatural, like “The Exorcist”. Do you agree?
I don’t necessarily agree; besides, as I mentioned before, there is a black version of “The Exorcist”. I’m talking about the infamous film “Abby” which is long forgotten now, but it was something of a sensation when it came out back in 1974.
But for all the wrong reasons.
The poster tag-line for the film when it was released read: “Abby doesn’t need a man anymore. The Devil is her lover now!”
I confess that it’s far from being one of the greatest black films ever made, but it sure is one of the most fun films to watch, as in the “so bad it’s good” kind of way.
The film was written and directed by Louisville native, William Girdler, who went on to have a very prolific career as a filmmaker during the 70′s, directing several features, including, the “Jaws” rip-off, “Grizzly”, and the unbelievable, truly weird “The Manitou”, which was released after his sudden death in a plane crash in 1978.
“Abby” stars Carol Speed in the lead role; she’s joined by “Blacula” himself, William Marshall, as the exorcist. The movie follows a woman who (like Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”) is possessed by the Devil. But not just any ordinary devil; a crazed nymphomaniac “African sex devil,” which means Abby goes around having lots of sex and causing all kinds of havoc, until Marshall’s character arrives to drive the evil demon from her body, doing so in some ‘hood-based Louisville dive. And if the idea of performing an exorcism in a bar isn’t black enough for you, then I don’t know what is.
Interestingly Carol Speed got the lead in the film when the original actress cast in the part got upset, after she found out that, because of the film’s low budget, she wouldn’t be provided with a massage therapist. She then walked off the project, and Speed got the role just before shooting began.
The film gained notoriety for a particular reason: Despite the fact that there were dozens of “Exorcist” rip-offs made after the original film was released, for some reason, “Abby” really got under Warner Bros’ craw.
The studio thought “Abby” was so much a blatant copy of their film “The Exorcist”, that they went to court and won a copyright infringement case against the producers of the film. The result was that “Abby” was eventually pulled from distribution, but not before it became a box office hit (mainly because audiences saw it as one of the funniest films of the year, whether intentionally or not).
Though the film was originally picked up for distribution by American International Pictures (AIP), the film’s current ownership is somewhat muddled, which is why, several years ago, after decades of not being commercially available, DVDs of the film, made from an old, scratchy 16MM print, began showing up, and are most likely the only existing versions available today.
Although some generous soul has now made the entire film available on YouTube for anyone interested in seeing it for themselves. But just to give you a taste, here’s a clip from the film. It’s hard to tell what’s going on from the editing, but Abby (Speed) is… ah ….”servicing” some guy in the bar, while others watch, before Marshall shows up to start performing the exorcism. It’s a hoot.