The Alcove

The Alcove (Joe D’Amato, 1993)

 In 1936 Italy, Elio (Ali Cliver, ZOMBI 2) returns home from Africa with a present for his wife in the form of Zerbal (Laura Gemser, BLACK EMANUELLE), the daughter of a tribal king.  Unbeknownst to him, his neglected wife Alessandra (Lili Carati, CANDIDO EROTICO) has formed a lesbian relationship with Elio’s otherwise frigid secretary Velma (Annie Belle, LAURE) who is less than pleased at Elio’s return (especially when he gets drunk and forces himself on her).  Neither woman immediately takes to Zerbal nor Elio’s disapproving son Furio (Roberto Caruso, THE CHURCH) who is quietly attracted to Velma.  Elio turns Zerbal over to Alessandra “body and soul” and she becomes Alessandra’s model while Velma is busy transcribing Elio’s memoirs (the proceeds from which he will pay off his many creditors).  Elio – who is making little progress with his manuscript – returns the belongings of a fallen comrade to his widow only to discover that the dead man was a stag filmmaker and decides to produce some of his own to make money with Alessandra, Velma, and Zerbal as the cast.  Slowly, the subservient and much-abused catalyst Zerbal gains sexual and psychological dominance over Elio, Alessandra, even managing to turn them against Velma who becomes an unwilling participant in one of his stag films directed by Zerbal.  Velma in turn appeals to Furio to free Elio and Alessandra from Zerbal’s influence.

Although regarded as one of the D’Amato’s best Filmirage-era erotica entries, THE ALCOVE is a frustrating movie.  Scripted by Ugo Moretti (Lenzi’s ORGASMO), the period detail is well-sustained and the cast is attractive but the plot takes a sudden hypocritical turn from Gemser doing her exotic femme fatale giving the despicable Elio, racist Alessandra, and jealous Velma what they deserve (this is certainly no BLACK EVA) to a gallant Furio comforting Velma and rescuing his father and stepmother from the evil influence of Zerbal who may be nefarious but her comeuppance is not so satisfying since she’s had our sympathy for the first half as the exploited victim.  Early on, the script is fairly sophisticated for softcore erotica.  Zerbal is constantly underestimated as being “just a savage” and “a feline creature” who doesn’t know what she is doing or why.

As it progresses, we start to wonder if Zerbal’s “Go and get yourself fucked” is simply her misuse of one of the phrases Elio taught her or her intended greeting to Alessandra and if her acquiescence to Elio’s turning her subservience over to Alessandra was ever sincere.  During a discussion with Furio of Elio’s African victories which upsets Zerbal, Alessandra points out that history is shaped by the victors and no one takes an interest in the perspective of the losers only after she has become enchanted by Zerbal’s body.

While Gemser is a commanding presence as always, Cliver is rather nondescript without Nick Alexander’s dubbing while Belle’s presence is diminished by the covering of her trademark short, cropped hairdo (whether dark as in LIPS OF BLOOD or platinum blonde as in LAURE and HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK) with a more period-suitable long wig.  Carati fares better in later scenes when Alessandra is totally psychologically dependent on Zerbal.  Instead of Filmirage regular synth composer Carlo Maria Cordio, Manuel de Sica (DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE) contributes a suitable-to-the-period score.  The Filmirage erotica entries were divided between modern-day entries of lesser quality such as the dire TOP MODEL and ELEVEN DAYS, ELEVEN NIGHTS and better period entries including this, THE PLEASURE (also featuring Carati), ROOM OF WORDS (a New Orleans-set version of the Henry Miller/Anais Nin story popularized by HENRY & JUNE), PEEPSHOW (a take on BELLE DU JOUR), and one or two others.  While the sex scenes are very standard for eighties softcore erotica, the stag film footage crosses the line into hardcore (and probably was cut from the UK release).  Although flawed, THE ALCOVE has the best combination of elements in terms of casting and settings.

Severin’s anamorphic widescreen transfer of the English version of THE ALCOVE is a satisfying rendition with a clear transfer (excepting the intentional softness of Joe D’Amato’s cinematography, here billed under his Filmirage cinematographer pseudonym Frederiko Slonisko) and good mono audio (dialogue is clear and hiss is only apparent during passages with only music).  Grain is heavy enough in some interiors and dark exteriors but that is likely the original cinematography.  Although a 1.66:1 aspect ratio would have offered a bit more headroom in some of D’Amato’s artier compositions, the 1.78:1 matting is not as ruinous here as it was on Severin’s Filmexport-licensed THE ART OF LOVE and HANNA D.

The rare theatrical trailer is in worse condition and seems to be taken from an old videotape.  The English-language D’Amato interview comes from grainy, fuzzy VHS as well but it is quite interesting (the augmenting film clips range from VHS quality to newer digital masters which may explain why the 4:3 video interview has been inserted into a 16:9 palette). The film has also been released in Italy by Avofilm who distributed the film on VHS in the eighties but the quality of their DVD product has been spotty (including a panned-and-scanned NEW YORK RIPPER when the rest of the world had anamorphic widescreen editions) and in Germany in a 4:3 letterbox version with forced German subtitles when the English track is selected.  Although some may covet the German edition’s hardbox clamshell, Severin’s newer edition looks like the winner.

                                                                                                                          (Eric Cotenas)