Director: Joe D'Amato
Severin Films

What makes a film sleazy? Location? Characters? Their motives? Can a single scene take an otherwise distinguished drama down a path so sordid that it would lend itself as a whole to such a categorization? Bathed in soft light and ornamented with well-designed set pieces and costumes, THE ALCOVE (L'alcova) is a period piece set in Italy during the 1940s which, by itself, is not very sleazy. Mix in jealousy, lust, deceit, rape, a couple of lesbians, a nun's habit and big black dildo and well, now we're talking about a level of sleaze so rich that I half expected the disc itself to be covered in beads of sweat when I ejected it from my DVD player.

Returning to his mansion in Italy, Elio (Al Cliver, Fulci's ZOMBIE), a military officer, brings with him much more than your typical spoils of war. Along with exotic fabrics, masks and phallic statuary, Elio has brought with him an African princess named Zerbal (Laura Gemser, EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD). Alessandra (Lilli Carati, ESCAPE FROM WOMEN’S PRISON), Elio’s wife, and his secretary Velma (Annie Belle, LAURE) are less than pleased with his prized acquisition, referring to the dark skinned beauty as a smelly animal. Elio insists however that everyone play nice as he needs his house to be both happy and well maintained if he is to finish his memoir in time to meet his publisher's deadline. Allocated to the house choirs, Zerbal is witness to Alessandra’s carnal affairs, both with her husband and her secret lover Velma. Unaccustomed to their way of life, Zerbal finds herself at odds with both Alessandra and Velma who constantly complain of the princess’s incompetence. Tired of her bitching, Elio transfers ownership of Zerbal to his wife in a ritual that requires Gemser to lick Carati from head to toe! Obligated to obey her master's every whim, Zerbal blindly follows Alessandra’s instruction and in the process finds herself drawing attention away from Velma and towards herself.

When Elio’s book fails to sell, he decides to pay a visit to the widow of one of his fallen colleagues where he purchases several stag films. After rebuffing the widow’s sexual advances, Elio gets the bright idea to make his own, elegant porno as means of making a quick buck so as to pay off his creditors. Purchasing lights, camera and film, Elio holds a house meeting to inform one and all of his attentions and their required involvement. Reluctantly, Velma agrees to partake in the adult film, so long as her scene allows her to engage physically with Alessandra. Zerbal, having taken Velma's place as Alessandra's lover, flat out refuses such a notion but comes around rather quickly once the potential to get ride of Velma once and for all presents itself. Setting up the scene to mimic her own story, Zerbal suggests that the porno feature a young woman taken as another’s possession. Everyone agrees and the stage is set accordingly with Velma tied down as a slave girl and with Alessandra playing a dominating nun. After forcible sitting on Velma’s face, Zerbal places her plan into motion by bringing in the house's subservient gardener (Nello Pazzafini) who forces himself onto Velma, in full view of Elio’s camera. Mortified, Velma flees the house and runs straight into the arms of Elio’s son Furio (Roberto Caruso, THE CHURCH). Together they decide to confront Zerbal, who in the matter of mere days has risen from the status of slave girl to calculating puppet master, eager to get her hands on Elio’s fortune and wife.

THE ALCOVE is erotic sleaze at its finest. For starters, there’s an actual story. Granted it’s seedy, racist and the characters may not be likable but their exploits are fun to watch and often captivating. Kind of like MTV’s “Jersey Shore”, except the ladies of ALCOVE have small, natural breasts and their dark skin is due to a high melanin count as opposed to prolonged hours in a tanning bed. No stranger to steamy tales full of conflict and intrigue, D'Amato hits all the right marks with ALCOVE and at a satisfying pace. Never once failing to showcase his female cast for optimal effect, Joe handles scenes of carnality and lust with a deft hand that has no doubt helped solidify the film as being one of his finest.

I’ve never considered myself a Gemser enthusiast, I prefer my ladies a bit more robust, but Laura rinsing off her nude body with a garden hose is most certainly a Kodak moment worth revisiting. Having worked with Laura on numerous films prior (EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK, EMANUELLE IN AMERICA, EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS), D'Amato clearly remembered which angles suit the beauty best as she looks amazing throughout the picture and as the film progresses, delivers a wholly believable performance as a merciless bitch out for blood. Lilli Carati would take her talents from modeling in men’s magazines into the realm of hardcore, pausing in the middle to take on the silver screen in a variety of exploitative adventures. Lilli worked for D'Amato on several occasions following ALCOVE including THE PLEASURE (Il piacere) and MIDNIGHT GIGOLO (Voglia di guardare), both of which saw her again co-staring alongside Gemser. Not to be forgotten, Annie Belle, while initially a bit stuffy, comes into her own once she catches the eye of Elio’s young son. Like Gemser, Annie is no stranger to films both sexual and depraved having previously started in D'Amato’s HORRIBLE (Rosso sangue), Ruggero Deodato’s HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (La casa sperduta nel parco), and Jean Rollin’s LIPS OF BLOOD (Lèvres de sang).

Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), THE ALCOVE hits DVD with a rich polish of grain and an almost vaporous visual quality. There is a slight emulsion line that dances around the left side of the screen around the one hour mark but otherwise the print appears to be in decent shape. A Dolby Digital Mono track presents the English speaking dialogue clean and clear, without any glaring errors. Having apparently been culled from a video source, the film's three minute theatrical trailer is on hand as a special feature and helps illustrate just how respectable a job Severin has done in bringing THE ALCOVE to DVD. Shot in the mid-1990s, this release's main extra is an 11 minute interview with the film's late director. Shot on home video from a low angle that replicates the kind of hidden camera footage most accustomed to primetime news investigations, the video features D'Amato discussing his EMANUELLE films and what it was like working with Gemser. It’s a nice peak into the director’s world, though subtitles might have helped to understand his accent a bit better.
(Jason McElreath)