Sunday, April 28, 2013

Abby (William Girdler, 1974)

They say there's nothing scarier in this world than a child who has been consumed by the forces of darkness. However, they, the people who spout such two-toed gobbledygook, probably have shapeless mounds of pallid flesh for genitals, and, in most cases, should be shunned by society. No, what's really scary, in a "my breakaway sweatpants have become inexplicably soaked in urine" kinda of way, is a fully-grown woman writhing on her bed in a fit of spiritual and existential torment. Oh, and if she could foam at the mouth while doing so that would be terrific. Just to let you know, I'm not just saying this because the whole bed writhing thing slides neatly into my cinematic comfort zone, it's what I genuinely believe. Seriously, though, if your demon possession movie doesn't have a distressed adult woman at its core, you'll probably find me camping at a level that can best be described as unhappy when all is said and done. Well, I can declare, with absolute confidence, that Abby, the finest the devil lives in my wife's body movie directed by William Girdler (Grizzly) to come out in the mid-1970s, meets this strange yet totally real criteria and then some. Don't believe me? Okay, let's check the facts. First off, is there a bed? Yes. And not only that, there are two; one in the bedroom and one over at the hospital. Nice. I like that. Two beds. Fantastic! All right, how's the writhing? In other words, does the woman doing the writhing fulfill all your frightfully specific spasticity needs? I don't know. I'm think going to have to access my writhing database. What the fuck? Who put all my writhing-based memories under "squirm"? They're supposed to be in the writhe section. Just a second, I need to fix this. And...done.
What was the question? Oh, yeah, the writhing. It's all nightgown-centric, so there are not a lot of opportunities for legginess to occur. But I would say that I was content with how the writhing went down in this film. I mean, the actress doing the writhing, who I'll get to in a moment, convulsed with just the right amount of gusto. You don't want to writhe with too much gusto. What is this, amateur hour? Yet, you don't want to under-writhe, either. You need to strike a balance. Which, I must say, can sometimes seem like a tightrope act; in that, you never know which way the quality of the writhing is going to fall.
The possession? What about it? The demonic possession, did it, you know, scratch your notoriously finicky demonic possession itch? Fuck yeah it did. I'm sorry. What I meant to say is, the demonic possession  scenes in Abby were indicative of how fragile our collective psyches can become when the mental health of a loved one is at stake.
Would it surprise you to learn that the possession in Abby comes courtesy of Eshu, the Yoruba Orisha of chaos and trickery? It wouldn't? Dang, you're hipper than you look. Okay, mister hipster pants. Would it surprise you to learn that the possessed party lives in the suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky? That's what I thought. Though, I'll admit, suburban Louisville was the last place I expected to see a first-rate demon possession movie take place as well. It just goes to show you that evil can strike anywhere.
Just before heading to Nigeria to study the religion of the Yoruba people (one of the largest ethnic groups of Sub-Saharan Africa), Dr. Bishop Garnet Williams (William Marshall) is saying farewell to some of his students on the campus of, oh, let's say, the University of Kentucky. After discussing the cult of Eshu, his students give Dr. Williams a huge silver cross necklace, which he puts on immediately; I'm not a big fan of crucifix-based jewelry (hail, Satan!), but even I thought the cross necklace his students gave him was pretty kick ass.
When the film is finished regaling us with authentic footage of Louisville street-life, we're swept into a cave in Nigeria, where we find Dr. Williams and a couple of locals poking around its craggily nooks and crannies. Finding a weird-looking box, Dr. Williams opens it. Unaware of the sinister force he just unleashed (though he should be, the sinister force threw him and his men halfway across the cave), Dr. Williams basically shrugs off the box-opening incident and goes about his Nigerian business.
Meanwhile, back in Kentucky, Dr. Williams' son, Rev. Emmett Williams (Terry Carter), and his marriage counselor wife, Abby (Carol Speed), are about to move in to their new home. As she's being helped by her mother, Momma Potter (Juanita Moore), and her brother, Det. Cass Potter (Austin Stoker), Abby, who's wearing blue jeans and a red bandana on her head, pauses for a second outside the house. Is she just stopping to bask in the moment (moving into a new house is a big deal for a young couple), or is something else going on, something...sinister? Either way, the next few scenes feature lot's of playful dialogue, as Abby and Rev. Williams get settled in.
It would seem that evil doesn't waste its time, as their first night in their new home is fraught with unexplained events (loud banging sounds, cold wind, noises of an eerie nature). 
It's hard to pinpoint that exact moment, but I think the sinister force enters Abby either while she's taking a shower or while she's doing laundry in the basement. I'm leaning more towards the latter, because we see these quick flashes of a green, demonic, heavily-browed face every so often. Nonetheless, other than her brother's glass breaking mysteriously during dinner, the new Abby doesn't reveal herself right away.
Slowly but surely, Abby begins to change. After cutting her arm with a kitchen knife and engaging in some hysterics at church (she vomits on some guy with glasses in the middle of one of her husband's sermons), Rev. Williams decides to call his father in Nigeria to ask him for some advice.
Right after kicking him square in the crotch while declaring, "I'm not your ho" (I had no idea, by the way, that "ho" was being used as a variation of "whore" as far back as 1974), we get our first taste of "the voice." What is "the voice," you ask? Well, I don't think Abby would have been the horror classic that it is without "the voice." You see, while Carol Speed is a tremendous actress, she probably couldn't pull off a semi-convincing demon voice (some people can do demon voices, some people can't). In order to fix this, they hired voice artist Bob Holt to provide the mellifluously malevolent tones that make the demon voice in Abby so memorable.
Asking Abby, "Whatever possessed you?" Not about the impromptu kick to the balls, but about the incident involving a couple she was giving marriage counsel to (she threatened to "fuck the shit" out of the husband), she ignores the question and proceeds to straddle Rev. Williams in a menacing fashion. If you don't think it's possible to straddle someone in a "menacing fashion," you've obviously never been straddled by someone who laughs like a demented Yoruba trickster god.
While Carol Speed needed a little help from Bob Holt to add some punch to her demonic dialogue (no-one says "motherfucker" quite the way Bob Holt does in this film), someone who doesn't need any help in that department is William Marshall, whose commanding voice gives the film, especially during the epic exorcism scene, some much needed gravitas.
I liked how when Dr. Williams does finally confront Abby (it took his son three calls to Nigeria to get his ass back to Louisville), it doesn't take place in a bedroom or a dusty church basement. No, the showdown between Dr. Williams, who is carrying a bag filled exorcism supplies, and Abby, who wearing a yellow dress, occurs at a sleazy nightclub.
Breaking out of the hospital (her possession results, as expected, were mostly negative), Abby, after changing into that yellow dress I just mentioned, hits the Louisville club scene with a slutty brand of enthusiasm. What's funny about the iconic yellow dress is that we have no idea she's wearing it until much later. You see, she's wearing a white mini-trench coat and a white scarf, so we can't see the yellow dress. Anyway, if anyone knows if Carol Speed is wearing white nylons during her debauchery spree, please think about hesitating to tell me; I dig the fact that there's a sense of mystery surrounding her gams.
Oh, and the reason I couldn't tell probably had something to do with the fact Carol Speed is clearly wearing makeup (her skin looked ashy at the height of her disco confrontation), and I have a feeling they covered her legs with makeup as well to create an air of ashen consistency.
Nylons or not, the exorcism scene is an awe-inspiring spectacle. Even though I pretty much attributed the bulk of her performance's success on Bob Holt, I must say, Carol Speed gives it her all during the climatic battle between good and evil. After all, Carol's the one wearing the bushy eyebrows and spewing milky foam from her mouth. And, at the end of the day, that kind of commitment needs to be commended. If you like you're exorcism movies to have a Yoruba edge to them, you definitely need to make a date with Abby, the Cadillac Coupe de Ville of demon possession flicks.

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  1. Yoruba religion and deities rule. Eshu and Pazuzu should get together and really fuck shit up.

  2. Actually, I should hold off on the nutzoid death metal at 4:00am when I should be finishing a paper that's already beyond late.

    Yoruba religion is really one of the most highly developed and complex shamanic traditions. Its actually a shame it got relegated to "out with ye devil" status here. Its way more sophisticated than that. Reincarnation and everything.

  3. My dad lived in Nigeria in the '60s, so I heard all about the Yoruba and their awesomeness as a child.

    Nutzoid death metal?!? Let the synth-based sounds of italo disco sooth your wary, 4:00am-adjacent soul. ;)

  4. "The Ancient Ones" sure is catchy. ;)

  5. That's pretty awesome. How long was your father in Nigeria? Did he live in any other African nations during that time?

    This fucking paper is eating my soul!!!!!!!!!!!


    Locked deep beyond the Gate
    Lost within the Stars
    Realm of Ancient Ones
    Malignant Ones
    Against the Light
    Power of the Blackened Sky
    Hateful Spawn "We are the Chasm Depths"

    Come forth Ancient Ones! Tiamat, Kutulu!
    Rise, greed the cursed with your Wrath!
    My enemies are Yours
    Twist their minds with Your Spells
    Crush their souls
    With your Infernal Grasp

    A scorn from the Absu
    Kutulu snaps His Jaws
    Cauldron burns and receives
    Crushing the Voice of the Tyrants
    Raise the Horns in Blasphemy


    .....and another personal ritualistic favorite, great for naked possessed writhing:


    Ninnghizhidda - open my eyes!
    Ninnghizhidda - hear my cries!
    Plumed Serpent of the Deep
    Plumed Serpent of the Gate
    I command - come before me
    I command - bring the Key
    Rise from the Depths
    See the Fire in my Wand

    Ia iak sakkakh iak sakkakth!
    Ia shaxul!

    I call forth the God Pazuzu
    I call forth the Lord of Plague
    I am of The Lost
    Creatures of Spawn of Hate
    Rejoice in the Heaving Earth
    Praise the Ripping Sky
    Rise spread Disease
    Consume their puny souls

    Ia iak sakkakh iak sakkakth!
    Ia shaxul!
    Ia Kingu ia Cthulu ia Azbul!
    Ia Azabua!

    Ride the Wings of Death!
    Ride the Wings of...

  6. Those lyrics are, like, totally exorcism-friendly. :D

    I'm sorry to hear about this soul-eating paper of yours. :(

    I'll have to get back to you on the exact amount of time he was in Nigeria. I'm thinking at least two years. As for other countries, I remember Benin being mentioned a few times.