Friday, October 24, 2014

Industrial Terror: Abby

The film collection at the J.B. Speed Art Museum is named in honor of scrappy Louisville exploitation filmmaker William Girdler, but it does not include any of his films. Arguably, a good print of his “Blaxploitation Exorcist” would be a rarity worth curating. Caught up in a studio copyright infringement case, it has only circulated in rather distressed formats. Nevertheless, Anthology Film Archives will make the best of what is available when they screen Girdler’s Abby as part of the Industrial Terror film series.

Since someone must necessarily get possessed, it makes sense that it would be Abby Williams, a sunny, upbeat marriage counselor, who happens to be the wife and daughter-in-law of ministers. Bishop Garnet Williams is a man of the cloth to be reckoned with, but he inadvertently causes all the trouble when he accidentally frees a spirit claiming to be Eshu, the demigod of lust, during a research trip to Nigeria. Eshu wastes no time possessing Abby Williams, turning her into a wanton harlot who constantly belittles her husband’s masculinity. Fortunately, her brother Cass Potter is a cop who can cover for the Williamses when she gets violent, but they will need the Bishop to perform the E word.

Rather than try to match the profound dread of Friedkin’s classic, Abby picks up on the sucking-you-know-what-you-know-where demonic dirty talk and runs with it. There is no question Eshu is evil and corrupting, but it saves on the special effects and gets Williams into swinging after hours clubs.

Actually, the mumbo jumbo backstory is not bad, particularly when the commanding William Marshall tells it. Cult famous as Blackula, Dr. Richard Daystrom in “The Ultimate Computer” episode of the original Star Trek, and at least half a dozen stage and television productions of Othello, Marshall has the authority and presence we need in a modern day Van Helsing.

Much like the film it admittedly ripped off, Abby finds its salvation in Christian faith. In a way, the Bishop sort of fortifies his Christianity with a little West African spirituality, but when you are going into an exorcism, you had better be loaded for bear. The enterprising Girdler (who tragically died at the youthful age of thirty while scouting what would have been his tenth feature) keeps it zipping along quite energetically, emphasizing funky attitude over gore. It is a lot of fun, even with beater prints, so it should be a real blast with an appreciatively rowdy audience. Recommended for fans of Blaxploitation, exploitation, and horror films, Abby screens tomorrow (10/25), Wednesday (10/29), and Halloween Friday (10/31) at Anthology Film Archives, as part of the Industrial Terror series.