Abby (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam Girdler
Written byG. Cornell Layne
Produced byWilliam Girdler
Mike Henry
G. Cornell Layne
StarringCarol Speed
William Marshall
Terry Carter
Austin Stoker
CinematographyWilliam Asman
Edited byHenry Asman
Corky Ehlers
Music byRobert O. Ragland
Distributed byAmerican International Pictures
Release date
  • December 25, 1974 (1974-12-25)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$100,000 (inflated figure reported as $472,529)
Box office$2.6 million[1]

Abby is a 1974 American blaxploitation horror film about a woman who is possessed by a Yoruba sex spirit. The film stars Carol Speed as the title character, William H. Marshall and Terry Carter. It was directed by William Girdler, who co-wrote the film's story with screenwriter Gordon Cornell Layne.

The film was a financial success, considering its modest budget and the times, grossing $4 million in a month, but was pulled from theaters after the film's distributor, American International Pictures, was accused of copyright violation by Warner Bros., which saw the film as being derivative of The Exorcist and filed a lawsuit against AIP.[2] Girdler himself told the Louisville Courier Journal: "Sure, we made Abby to come in on the shirttail of The Exorcist." The film is also inspired by 1968's Rosemary's Baby.[3]


Dr. Garrett Williams (William Marshall) explains to his students, "Eshu is the most powerful of all earthly deities. Eshu is a trickster, creator of whirlwinds... chaos."

While on an archaeological dig in a cave in Nigeria, Dr. Williams finds a small puzzle box, carved with the symbols of Eshu: the whirlwind, the cock's comb, and the erect phallus. When Dr. Williams discovers the mechanism to open the box and unlatches it, a tremendous wind blasts out, knocking Dr. Williams and his men against the cave walls and floor.

The spirit released by Dr. Williams crosses the Atlantic to Louisville, Kentucky to the new home of Dr. Williams' son, Emmett Williams (Terry Carter) and Abby Williams (Carol Speed). After Abby becomes possessed, her behavior becomes exponentially bizarre and dangerous.

Production notes[edit]

The film's use of the Yoruba religion distinguishes it from The Exorcist. In the story, Abby is apparently possessed by Eshu, a West African orisha of chaos and whirlwinds. He is also a trickster and the guardian of roads, particularly crossroads.

Why and how the spirit travels the globe is not explained, and the dialogue doesn't specify whether the spirit inside Abby is Eshu. The plot's final resolution leaves the point unclear.[4] In And You Call Yourself A Scientist, Elizabeth A. Kingsley wrote "from a theological point of view, the final section of Abby is quite fascinating. Toward the end of the film, having spent some time taking the demon's measure, Garret decides that it is not in fact Eshu, but a rather pathetic Eshu wannabe... who presumably was imprisoned by Eshu."[5]



Abby was directed and produced by William Girdler, a filmmaker who specialized in exploitation pictures that were often in the horror genre. Films such as Grizzly and The Manitou are some of Girdler's more notable productions, while Abby achieved a more infamous reputation because it was accused of copyright violation by Warner Bros., who felt it was a direct copy of The Exorcist. Warner Bros. won their court case, and Abby was eventually pulled from theaters, but not before it was able to take in almost $4 million.[6][7]

Abby was filmed in 1974 in Louisville, Kentucky.[8] Carol Speed wasn't chosen to play Abby at first. She recalls: "Abby was a low-budget production. They originally had another woman to play the role, but she was very demanding. She wanted a personal masseuse on the set. They couldn't afford it.

So when David Baumgorten (Agency of the Performing Artist) telephoned and asked me if I needed a masseuse while filming - I happily said 'no.' He said, "Good. Pick up the script Abby from AIP. You'll leave for Louisville in two or three days."

The script reminded me of The Three Faces of Eve which starred Paul Newman's wife. I thought Abby was a wonderful vehicle to show off my acting. I didn't give the Yoruba religion that much thought. I started memorizing Abby's lines. I was also very comfortable with Eshu. Voodoo doesn't bother me. It's part of being African."[9]

In one scene, Speed's title character was required to sing a song during church services. Speed agreed, and the song was one that she herself wrote and composed, titled "Is Your Soul A Witness?" (No official recordings of this song were known to exist, aside from the film's soundtrack reels, as of February 2017.)

The production of the film was met with an unusual threat when Louisville experienced a series of tornadoes that tore through the area around the set of Abby. Speed recalled spending time with co-star Juanita Moore huddled in the lobby of their hotel, wrapped in blankets for protection. "Juanita and I immediately left the set when the daytime sky turned pitch black," she said. "We ended up rolled in some blankets on the lobby floor. Ramada had built this nice hotel, but no basement or tornado shelter. Just glass windows...everywhere."[10]

William Marshall was vocal about his unhappiness with the production of Abby, mostly because he had been promised certain script revisions that never materialized. Marshall did add certain elements to the film regarding the Yoruba religion.[11]

Critical reaction[edit]

The New York Times review published December 26, 1974, mentioned that "Abby is more silly than shocking even if it seems to take itself seriously."[12]

In 2006, Retrocrush named the movie one of the "Top Ten Films in Limbo" stating "Horror wunderkind William Girdler, director of Grizzly and Day of the Animals, has created an irresistible period trashterpiece, one that places the action in a black family and replaces Catholic references with an African fertility deity, freed by Blacula’s William Marshall."[13]

Urban legends and on-set incidents[edit]

Carol Speed talked about the set of Abby being cursed, similar to what happened with The Exorcist a year before. She mentioned accidents, people falling ill and tornadoes. Pat Kelly, who managed the film, stated, "Nothing happened that would be considered unusual. Carol - and maybe a couple of others - were so hoping things would go strange, that they may have convinced themselves of a great evil over us - the tornadoes were the closest - but they hit 10 states, so it was not just Abby that had somebody up there (or down) awful mad!"[14]

Scarcity of prints[edit]

Abby was out of circulation for many years, partially due to the lawsuit instigated by Warner Bros., and also because of the uncertain propriety of distribution rights. The ownership of the original film elements of Abby is still in question. The film was released on DVD on three different occasions, all within a year's time of each other. It was first released October 2006 as a Collector's Edition, released by CineFear. That edition went out of stock on the day of its release in Amazon.[15] It appears to have been transferred from a visually flawed 16 mm print of the film, which is possibly the only format in which celluloid prints of Abby are still found.[16] The Black Exorcist Edition was then released June 2007. Its third DVD release appeared as part of a Demonic Double Feature set in September 2007, packaged with the German Exorcist film Magdalena, vom Teufel besessen.

As the clean, original copy of the film remains unreleased, it is unknown if the injunction awarded to Warner is still active. In 2013, a 16mm print of the movie was screened at The CineFamily.[17] It is also suggested that Warner not only instigated a lawsuit against the film, but also confiscated all of the copies produced in 1975.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Donahue, Suzanne Mary (1987). American film distribution : the changing marketplace. UMI Research Press. p. 300. Please note figures are for rentals in US and Canada
  2. ^ Gary A. Smith, The American International Pictures Video Guide, McFarland 2009 p 9
  3. ^ "William Girdler: Kentucky Films".
  4. ^ Scott Ashlin (2003). "Abby Possess My Soul (1974)". 1000 Misspent Hours.
  5. ^ Elizabeth A. Kingsley (March 23, 2008). "Abby (1974)". And You Call Yourself a Scientist!.
  6. ^ "J. Patrick Kelly III interview at". Retrieved April 20, 2007.
  7. ^ "Career overview at". Archived from the original on April 28, 2007. Retrieved April 20, 2007.
  8. ^ "IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved April 20, 2007.
  9. ^ "Interview with Carol Speed at". Retrieved October 14, 2022.
  10. ^ "Interview with Carol Speed at". Retrieved April 20, 2007.
  11. ^ What It Is... What It Was!; The Black Film Explosion of the '70s in Words and Pictures. Miramax Books. 1998. ISBN 0-7868-8377-4.
  12. ^ Dargis, Manohla. "New York Times review, December 26, 1974". The New York Times. Retrieved April 20, 2007.[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ "Top 10 Films in Limbo". Archived from the original on August 28, 2018. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  14. ^ "William Girdler: Abby".
  15. ^ " Customer reviews: Abby". Retrieved December 11, 2022.
  16. ^ "DVD Talk review". Retrieved April 20, 2007.
  17. ^ "The United States of Horror | the Cinefamily". Archived from the original on February 1, 2014. Retrieved January 29, 2014.

External links[edit]