Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Exor-Sistah is Doin' it for Herself: Abby

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed The Exorcism of Emily Rose--a classy, tasteful treatment of possible demonic possession populated with A-list Oscar nominees and shot with polish and care. Respectful and respectable as it was, it kinda left me a little cold.

Tonight I viewed Abby, a cheap Exorcist rip-off from 1974. It's lustily potty-mouthed, silly as hell, moves like a chicken with its ass on fire, and doesn't give a hang as to how respectable it is.

Guess which one I liked better.

Abby's backstory reflects almost as much drama and silliness as the movie itself...Almost. When The Exorcist became a massive box office hit back in 1973, it unleashed a slew of filmic imitations both here and abroad. It seemed like damn near everywhere you turned, local theaters and drive-ins were overflowing with heretofore innocent women vomitting pea soup thanks to the influence of some pesky demon-of-the-week.

This proliferation of demonic-possession movies did not go unnoticed by The Exorcist's benefactor, Warner Brothers. The big studio soon brought the legal hammer down hard, threatening to sue the producers of every one of these Exorcist knock-offs for plagarism. Before the legal system called bull on Warners, Abby was yanked from theaters, the most significant victim of this litigious carpet-bombing.

Abby went nigh-unseen for decades, last playing theaters in the seventies and never receiving a legal release on VHS or laserdisc. Finally, in 2003 Cinefear Releasing put it out on DVD.  And thank God (or someone significantly less wholesome) that they did, because Abby is, to quote the eminent Snoop Dogg, the shizzle.

William Marshall plays Bishop Williams, a man of the cloth whose archaeological digging in Africa releases a Nigerian sex demon (yep, you read right). In addition to horniness, said demon nurses one big-assed mean streak, so it wreaks vengeance by demonically possessing Bishop Williams' daughter-in-law, Abby (Carol Speed). One minute, the young woman's singing in the choir and serving as a marriage counselor at her church; the next she's kicking her husband Emmet (original Battlestar Galactica star Terry Carter) in the hacky-sacks, spitting up white bile, slapping old ladies around, and cussing like a gangsta rapper in a Barry-White-gargles-Drano scary voice.

William Girdler's mind-broiling The Manitou received some Petri Dish adoration during Horrorpalooza 2007, and he also directs here. If anything, Abby actually tops that movie's over-the-top loopiness. I suppose you could read below the surface and see this little low-budget chiller as an extreme meditation on the release of a repressed young woman's libido by the Sexual Revolution. Then again, you can just take the movie's tassel of goofy dialogue ("Whatever possessed you to do a thing like that?!") and wild-assed moments (Abby causes one of Emmet's friends to literally go up in smoke when she jumps his bones in the back of a car) at delicious face value.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose reaches its climax in a musty old courtroom with earnest moral debates about theology's influence on the mentally-fragile; Abby ends with a hellzapoppin' encounter in a stone-soul nightclub packed to the rafters with badazz stylin' mofos in flares, floppy hats, and platforms. Emily Rose's exorcist is a gentle priest who may be completely nuts; Abby's savior Bishop Williams is a towering, decisive asskicker who disgorges multilingual exorcism chants with Shakespearean richness. The priest in Emily Rose fights off the devil by reading bible passages and accidentally killing the possessed woman in his charge; Bishop Williams defeats the Nigerian Sex Demon by dissing the hell out of its candied ass until it runs away whimpering, and Abby walks away from the whole experience alive and well. And you ponder why Abby made me happy to be alive while The Exorcism of Emily Rose merely made me nod respectfully?

If you do get your hands on the Cinefear DVD of Abby (and you're a blithering ninny if you don't at least try to), be prepared for your eyes to hurt. The print looks like it was marinating for the last three decades in a vat of cooking oil, and the audio's nearly as bad. But it's worth it to catch one of the most fun 'lost films' of the 1970's at long last. Don't believe me? Get a load of the enclosed clip courtesy of YouTube, and be ready to have the top of yer head blown off. To quote Abby herself, my soul is a witness.

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