The Alcove (1984)
By: Mr Intolerance on March 1, 2010  | 
DVD
Severin (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 93 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Joe D'Amato
Starring: Lilli Carati, Annie Belle, Laura Gemser, Al Cliver, Robert Caruso
Screenplay: Ugo Moretti
Country: Italy
External Links
IMDB Purchase Rotten
Prolific Italian director Joe D'Amato's name (well, one of his many names) is synonymous with sleaze. In many cases (this one included) it's a word that's used to actively and positively promote his films, rather than condemn them, on the cover of the DVD you might well be holding in your hand. Now, if sleaze is a word that you use as a determinant for buying a film, you'd better read on. If on the other hand, it's a word that makes you a little uncomfortable, you might want to go read about the latest Hollywood superhero blockbuster – there's nothing for your kind here.

Set in the 1940s before Mussolini's fascist regime went tits up, The Alcove is the story of Zerbal (Black Emanuelle herself, long-time D'Amato collaborator Laura Gemser), a tribal princess looted as 'spoils of war' by blackshirt officer Elio (Italian genre stalwart Al Cliver, Endgame, 2020: Texas Gladiators and Zombie Flesh Eaters, to name a few of his greatest hits) during the ill-fated Italian occupation of Abyssinia (that's Ethiopia, to you). The casual racism Zerbal faces when she is brought back to Italy from Sandra, the mistress of the house (played with some relish by Lilli Carati, Escape From Women's Prison), who's lesbonically attracted to her hubby's secretary Velma (Annie Belle, whose boobs you may remember from House On The Edge Of The Park), might be rather surprising today, but given the context of Fascist Italy, is most likely accurate. Poor old Zerbal is just one more trinket brought home for show, no different to the rugs, statues, masks and dildoes that Elio has brought home as presents for Sandra. Wait a second! Who the hell goes on a holiday jaunt and souvenirs a dildo for their wife? "Darling, I was only thinking of you…" Anyway…

A lot of people pooh-pooh D'Amato's work and call him a hack. I am not one of those people. Sure, sometimes a scene lingers too long, or maybe the performances simply aren't up to scratch (dubbing never helps in these matters), but just have a look at his composition of shot and generally speaking his use of the camera. This is definitely quite a lush looking film, let me tell you, belying its low budget nature. I digress.

Sex. Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex. This is what really powers the film. Make no mistakes about it, The Alcove is, at its greasy heart, a period piece soft-core porn flick which is carried by its three female leads, all of whom are quite happy to nude up as soon as look at them. And it's apparent from the first scene, where Sandra wants a quick snog with Velma before Elio gets up the driveway (that's not a euphemism, by the way). Velma later sits on the stairs weeping at the sounds of Sandra and Elio bumping uglies, and we can see from Zerbal's thwarted attempt to polish Elio's nob that all kinds of hanky-panky must have been occurring back in the colonies, as well as the lesbian antics that heat up as the film progresses. Zerbal seems torn between who she'd like to fuck, and you'd better believe there's a lot of steamy glances between her and Sandra.

The pacing, despite all of this salivating heat and the frequent and regular sex scenes, is languorous at best, downright meandering at times, and despite the presence of three attractive and usually naked and touching each other leading ladies, attention soon starts to pall. Oddly, The Alcove seems to flit between trying to present some kind of semi-serious historical drama (costuming and set design look quite accurate for the best part), and a leering soft-core flick with some ludicrous dialogue (that's a good thing, by the way) and better than average camerawork.

Complications, such as they exist here, are mild at best. Velma gets jealous of the growing bond between Sandra and Zerbal, Elio's son Furio arrives home unexpectedly from military academy and immediately falls for Velma, Elio finds it difficult to meet his publisher's deadlines and is drinking too much (and is – up to a point – oblivious to the whirlwind of Sapphic lust taking place around him), and so on, and so on. But it's all only mildly diverting at best, much like the motif of voyeurism, which is raised but is never really explored adequately – loads of folks watch other folks having a bit of a fumble or simply ogle them nude – the reactions are different, but it never brings out the best in the beholder – lust, anger, jealousy. I guess that the film's attitude to sex is a pretty liberated one, and certainly celebrates polygamy, to say the least.

Similarly, the constant references back to the context of the setting – Italy's brutal, clumsy oppression of Abyssinia in search of recreating the glories of Imperial Rome – and the ironic post-colonial commentary that goes with D'Amato's approach here – is it just for show, or is there even a mild satire or political comment present? My guess is merely local colour. The only thing I can even suggest would be D'Amato making a cursory examination of power struggles within a relationship (through using the metaphor of colonialism) and how they can turn on a dime, and how the fortunes of those involved can suffer accordingly. Yes, I'm grasping at straws.

Once drugs and pornography turn up in the final act of the film (including some hardcore black and white silent footage), it'd appear that maybe the scriptwriter was trying any means possible to keep the audience's attention to the end of the film (believe me, the second act is practically made of foam, the padding is so complete) – and understandably so – after all, I'm a trash fan, and my interest was dissipating – imagine what a real person would be thinking! Y'see, Elio has bought a movie camera and is determined to make a porno film – again that notion of voyeurism, exacerbated by the fact that Elio wants to use the three nubiles in the house to make this whacking material for the rich and shameless. He simply announces this rather than asking anybody – but I did find it amusing watching Belle, Carati and Gemser (none of whom I've ever seen keep their clothes on the entire duration of a film) protesting against having to nude up for the camera. Elio's final consolation to the girls? "Don't worry. No one will ever know you're in it!" D'Amato being self-referential, perhaps? Elio's solutions to the perils of low-budget film-making have a familiar ring to them, too. "We must begin with a story that's very crude and real and cruel." Hmm… I don't know about 'real', but 'crude' and 'cruel' certainly summarise D'Amato's more lurid excesses pretty accurately, well… Indeed, the film Elio goes on to make eventually is a Nunsploitation! Talk about art imitating life. And boy, what a nunsploitation – I may have been sinking into a torpor during the second act, but holy shit! The Alcove certainly does redeem itself in its final act – it suddenly explodes off the screen and then…well, you'll have to watch it and see what the hell happens, won't you?

One thing I can't quite work out is the significance of the title – it doesn't seem to mean anything much. I didn't see any alcoves in the film, and I couldn't read anything into the title symbolically. Any suggestions?
Video
While The Alcove is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and anamorphically enhanced, the image is still soft, although thankfully almost completely glitch-free. As Severin are a company who take their product seriously and don't release sub-standard fare, this is probably about as good as The Alcove is going to look on DVD. The colour palette is quite vibrant despite many interior shots being dark almost to the point of obscurity. 
Audio
English dubbing does not make for an ideal movie experience, but this two-track mono soundtrack with the occasional hiss is what you get, and it is adequate for the experience. The Alcove is hardly an action soundfest after all.
Extra Features
You get the overly long and poor picture quality theatrical trailer, which basically renders watching the film a little null and void. It's not that it contains a whole load of spoilers, it simply shows you too much of the titillation ultimately on display – you feel like you've already watched the film. However, you also get an interview with the Director: Talking Dirty With Joe D'Amato. Like Jess Franco, a director he's often associated with due to the sleazy elements of their equally low budget films, D'Amato is always an interesting interview subject – blunt and honest. He makes no apologies for his work and is quite candid about how he views the product he's made. It's an older interview from the 1990's (as D'Amato passed away some years ago) and of VHS quality, about the Black Emanuelle films, Laura Gemser; the interviewer centres on the snuff footage from Emanuelle In America and the practice of inserting scenes of hardcore sex into some of D'Amato's more notorious sexploitation films for certain foreign markets. It's not a long interview, but it's an interesting one for fans, nevertheless.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
While The Alcove has a bigger sag in the middle than an occupied hammock, the final act does tend to make it worthwhile, although it does require a fair amount of patience. If you're a first time D'Amato viewer, go and watch Beyond The Darkness or maybe one of the more notorious Black Emanuelle films first. Like I said, while the film is slow to the point of tedium at times, the crazed final act is pure D'Amato gold.

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