It’s a pattern as old as Hollywood which shows that whenever there is a popular trend, next will come all the people trying to exploit the fad for financial gains. It’s happening right now with Charles Band’s Barbenheimer, which is currently in production, and it happened in 1974 with Abby, the William Girdler film that tried to rip off The Exorcist. Unfortunately for Girdler, Warner Bros. sued the B-movie horror film for copyright infringement, and Abby has still never been released.
Directed and produced by William Girdler, a filmmaker known for his exploitation pictures in the horror genre, Abby had humble beginnings but ambitious aspirations. Set against the backdrop of Louisville, Kentucky, the film follows the story of Abby Williams, played by Carol Speed, a woman possessed by a Yoruba sex spirit named Eshu. As Dr. Garrett Williams, portrayed by William Marshall, explains the significance of Eshu—a West African orisha of chaos and whirlwinds—the narrative unfolds, linking the possession to an archaeological discovery in Nigeria.
Despite its modest budget of $100,000 (inflated figure reported as $472,529), Abby became a financial success, grossing $4 million in just a month. However, its triumph was short-lived. The film’s distributor, American International Pictures (AIP), faced a formidable foe in the form of Warner Bros., accusing them of copyright violation.
Warner Bros., still riding high on the success of The Exorcist, deemed Abby a derivative work, effectively filing a lawsuit that led to the film’s abrupt removal from theaters.
In a candid admission, Girdler himself confessed to riding “the shirttail of The Exorcist, revealing Abby’s undeniable attempt to capitalize on the success of the iconic horror film. But in his defense, the director said he was also ripping off another popular horror movie of the time, Rosemary’s Baby.
Still, even if Girdler was largely inspired by the Warner Bros. movies, Abby has its differences. One such distinction from The Exorcist is through the film’s incorporation of the Yoruba religion, with Eshu as the possessing entity. The slight variations between Abby and the other popular horror films of the time seemed to be enough to satisfy audiences as the film had a very successful first and only month in theaters.
Some critics even found the film to be theologically fascinating, with the ambiguity around the spirit inside Abby posing theological conundrums that add an unexpected layer of fascination to a B-rated movie.
Following the legal battle and Warner Bros.’ victory, Abby slipped into obscurity, remaining out of circulation for many years. Despite sporadic DVD releases in 2006 and 2007, featuring flawed 16 mm prints, the clean, original copy of the film remains unreleased. Because of the film’s infamy and limited access, these flawed DVD releases were immediately sold out.
Now, the only way B-movie horror aficionados have a chance of watching this The Exorcist rip-off is if they were one of the lucky ones to purchase the film during its limited releases, or somehow find a copy for resale online or at a used bookstore. Still, even if fans are able to get their hands on a flawed 16 mm release, it is unlikely anyone will get to see the movie the way Girdler intended. After the lawsuit, Warner Bros. allegedly confiscated all copies of the film, meaning that a clean version of Abby will likely never get released.