Italy has produced a bevy of filmmakers notorious for their willingness to “go there” in the name of sleaze but few are as synonymous with the form as Aristide Massacessi, best known to his fans as “Joe D’Amato.” This cinematographer-turned-director cranked out a variety of sex and horror product in his day that has become notorious amongst fans of Eurosleaze for his unflinching approach. He worked steadily from the early 1970’s through the end of the 1990’s, cranking out everything from sword & sorcery flicks to hardcore porno (the specialty of his later years).
Regardless of the genre he was tackling, D’Amato could be counted on to throw himself into the material’s extremes. The Alcove is among the more restrained examples of his oeuvre, particularly when compared with the likes of Emanuelle In America and Beyond The Darkness, but it still offers an earthy, intense approach to sexuality that lives up to his cult reputation… not to mention a few unexpected shocks that give it a nice sting in the tail.
The Alcove is set in the 1930’s and begins with Elio (Al Cliver) returning home from Italy’s war with Abyssinia. He is greeted by Alessandra (Lilli Carati), his religiously unfaithful bisexual-nymphomaniac wife, and Wilma (Annie Belle), her ambitious assistant and secret lover. Elio adds further spice to this hotbed with a “gift” he brought home from the war: Zerbal (Laura Gemser), a princess who was given to him as a slave.
Elio is hired to write a memoir and sets to work, co-opting Velma to work as his assistant. Zerbal is treated with scorn by the women at first but soon becomes accustomed to her new home’s mixture of lust and deceit and manipulates the insatiable Alessandra into an affair. Meanwhile, Velma becomes involved with Furio (Roberto Caruso), Elio’s son. Elio becomes desperate when his finances start to slip and purchases filmmaking equipment from a war widow, planning to shore up his fortunes by making pornos with his houseful of women – and that’s where things really get crazy in that unique Joe D’Amato way…
The Alcove is likely to amuse those who reminisce about the days of late-night Skinemax viewing because it isn’t shy about being smutty. There is plenty of bare flesh, much of it provided by a very game Carati, lots of heavy-breathing softcore shenanigans and an atmosphere of lusty decadence. The Italo-softcore triumvirate of Carati, Belle and Emanuelle icon Gemser is a potent one as they dish-up a one-two punch of clothing-free frolics and overheated emoting. D’Amato capitalizes on this trio’s assets with his unerring knack for finding the perfect crotch-level angle from which to shoot every coupling (D’Amato doubled as cinematographer here, as he often did on his films).
That said, The Alcove is surprisingly ambitious for a skin-flick. Ugo Moretti’s script is unusually character and plot-oriented and D’Amato also shows surprising restraint, keeping his id in check, at least until the last 15 minutes, and concentrating on the storyline. There are some flaws: the performances of the male actors are a bit wooden (Cliver is supposed to be a drunk but never remembers to act boozy). More importantly, the ending is too abrupt to be truly satisfying. Sure, it ends things on a note of slap-in-the-face surprise but it also leaves a number of frustrating loose ends dangling.
Thankfully, the last reel packs a punch overall and this asset, along with the central trio of starlets, makes the film a worth a look for the Eurosleaze faithful. It’s also worth noting that Gemser has one of her best roles here and she clearly is having fun as she makes the transition from victim to tormentor. It’s more than a little ridiculous for her to have been cast as an African princess but she’s sexy enough that few are likely to care.
In summation, The Alcove is neither as sleazy or shocking as D’Amato flicks can be but it creates a hypnotic spell of its own for those into this sort of thing. Severin’s recent DVD offers a nice viewing option for the curious, boasting a solid transfer, a trailer and a fun interview featurette where the now-deceased D’Amato talks about his career circa the mid-1990’s.