Sunday, June 21, 2015
William Girdler, the twentysomething director of ASYLUM OF SATAN and THREE ON A MEATHOOK, shot ABBY in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. It’s difficult to guess which of those films induced good actors like Carol Speed, Terry Carter, William Marshall, Juanita Moore, and Austin Stoker (who also starred in Girdler’s COMBAT COPS aka PANIC CITY aka THE GET MAN) to perform this particular screenplay in Louisville. They work hard and take the material seriously — perhaps more so than it deserves — but the reality is that ABBY is more funny than scary. Stuck with a very low budget, Girdler’s po’-faced approach to an absurd story turned out to be wrong, and ABBY lacks the horrific atmosphere necessary to set the story on its edge.
While exploring some African ruins, holy man/archeologist Garnet Williams (Marshall, who was also Blacula) uncovers a horny evil spirit named Eshu. Somehow (don’t ask me) it makes its way to Louisville (!), where it invades the body of Abby (Speed), the sweet newlywed wife of Reverend Emmett Williams (Carter, then a regular on MCCLOUD), Garnet’s son. Before you can say “the power of Christ compels you,” Abby has transformed into an ugly, cruel, foul-mouthed sex machine, frightening the elderly church organist into a fatal heart attack and cruising singles bars in search of carnal debauchery. For some reason, nobody notices Abby’s green makeup or the fact that she speaks in a raspy male voice (provided by Bob Holt) when under Eshu’s spell. I’m pretty sure the cast during production didn’t know Speed was going to be dubbed.
The sight of little Carol Speed foaming at the mouth, swearing like a drunken sailor, and tossing grown men around like rag dolls is impossible to take seriously. On one hand, one feels guilty mocking ABBY, since Girdler is nothing if not sincere in his intent to create a work of ghastly horror. Being as he was usually able to get name actors to work for him, there must have been something about his personality that attracted them, because they certainly couldn‘t have been impressed with his films. And ABBY‘s cast really does shine, struggling as they do with the silly script by Girdler and Cornell G. Layne. Marshall does his best to anchor the film in some sort of reality, spouting his Eshu expertise as if he really believed it, while Carter and Stoker as Abby’s cop brother provide fine support.
On the other hand, Robert O. Ragland’s inappropriately funky score, some very cheap sets, and some of the most painful wardrobe choices this side of Chad Everett on MEDICAL CENTER prevent ABBY’s audience from experiencing any emotion except giggly amusement. Let’s face it—the sight of an innocent-looking young woman possessed by demonic forces and compelled to spit up green foam, curse, emit a sinister laugh, and latch on to the honkers of total strangers is intrinsically ridiculous. THE EXORCIST managed to pull it off because of the brilliant filmmakers—such as William Friedkin, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Dick Smith and William Peter Blatty—involved with that production. It’s to Marshall’s credit that you almost buy it in ABBY, but Girdler ain’t no Hurricane Billy.
Girdler followed ABBY with another blaxploitation film — the unsuccessful SHEBA, BABY with Pam Grier in the title role — and then four more movies in the horror and science fiction veins, culminating in the bizarre THE MANITOU. Girdler died just before THE MANITOU’s 1978 release in a helicopter accident while scouting locations in the Philippines. He was just 30 years old. ABBY has never been legally available on home video, though a few bootlegs have slipped out over the years, and a random theatrical screening pops up occasionally, presumably under Warner’s radar.