I grew up in the age of the videotape, and during most of my youth, there was no internet. My parents sheltered me from R-rated movies, and so I could do little but wonder about the trashy VHS boxes at my local video store. Years later, I can look back and say that, honestly, my mental image of what I was missing out on was far more interesting than most of the crap that passed as sleazy, trash entertainment in the 1980's. Still, I've picked one or two of Severin's cult titles out of the screener pool, just to sate my curiosity, but I really hit the jackpot this time: The Alcove is a genuinely deranged piece of sex cinema.
The film, set in the 1940's, kicks off by introducing the viewer to Alessandra (Lilli Carati), the spoiled trophy wife of military man Elio De Silveris (Al Cliver), who is about to return from his station in the jungle. Alessandra and Elio have an assistant, Wilma (Annie Belle), with whom Alessandra is secretly having a torrid lesbian affair. When Elio arrives, he has more than the standard trinkets and treasures to show his wife; he's also brought back Zerbal (Laura Gemser), who he won as a slave after saving her father's life. Alessandra claims aloud that she doesn't like the idea of having Zerbal around, but it becomes clear to Wilma that Zerbal has caught Alessandra's eye, and a bitter game of jealousy and infidelity begins to ensue.
Director Joe D'Amato, famous for several of the Emmanuelle films, wastes no time ramping up the movie's sex scenes. In the first 20 or 30 minutes, I think the viewer is treated to at least three of them, between Alessandra and Elio, between Alessandra and Wilma, and between Alessandra and Zerbal. One of the most bizarre, amusing things about the movie is how desperately it wants to lay on both sides of the line: there's plenty of frontal nudity, and the film pushes the limits of softcore lesbian sex about as far as it can before backing off; the film's number of scenes of women kissing each other's upper thighs and lower belly rack up pretty quickly. Somehow, most of this transpires without Elio noticing, I guess he's just too busy writing a book about his experiences in the jungle to notice torrid affairs happening to the left and right of him.
Not content to stop there, the film ramps up the tension when Elio finally catches on, at which point he forces Wilma to pleasure him, and later reveals that he's essentially bankrupt. His only solution? Shoot a porn film with all three women. I have seen left turns in movies, but nothing quite like this. For no clear reason, Elio's vision involves masks, nuns, and the couple's unassuming, innocent gardener, so if the film hasn't quite broached the viewer's bad taste boundaries yet, rest assured that there's plenty more to get up in arms about before the credits roll. Before long, there's another left turn in which Zerbal turns the tables on the white couple and initiates a bizarre ritual that would make them slaves to her. I don't want to spoil all of the movie's surprises, but the ending is suitably over-the-top; instead, I'll repeat a fact I learned from Inglourious Basterds, which is that nitrate film burns ten times faster than paper.
When pitching the idea for the porn film, Elio shows a black-and-white filmstrip that involves actual pornographic content, which is probably some of the footage that is making its American debut, according to the DVD box. Ironically, this glimpse of actual smut is probably the least interesting thing about the entirety of The Alcove, which slathers on the filth as if filth was going out of style, continually rushing itself to a new level of debauchery without stopping to catch its breath. I can't imagine those videotapes, like The Bikini Car Wash Company and the "adults only" version of Cinderella, held anything racier than Showgirls, but here's The Alcove, which goes to ludicrous heights that the 13-year-old brain couldn't possibly imagine. I'm telling you, they even get the gardener in on the debauchery! The poor gardener!
Severin offers up The Alcove with some particularly provocative cover art of Laura Gemser in the nude, with some logos and text haphazardly placed on top. The back cover is the most well-organized of the three Severin DVDs I've reviewed, with a nice layout of fonts and images that avoids being too cluttered or cheap. There is no insert inside the case (one of those ones that smells strongly of plastic fumes), and the disc features black paint lettering on top of the silver disc surface.
The Video and Audio
The Alcove arrives on DVD with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The picture is awash in hazy, rough-looking grain that noticeably ages the image (as well as a yellow line on the left side of the frame in a couple of the later scenes). I don't know if the film's soft-focus appearance is at least partially intentional, but it's both constant and inconsistent, appearing in almost every scene but varying wildly in volume. Whites are way off base as well, covering tablecloths and shirts in purple or blue shadows, and occasionally boosted so much they turn into a blinding glow. Several scenes also have that familiar green or yellow tint that most aging, unrestored foreign films tend to exhibit, while fleshtones look accurate (you'd hope so, since that's 75% of the movie), and detail is surprisingly strong when taking the rest of the picture quality into account.
A Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track, as with all of the Severin films I've reviewed, is a muddy English dub that's easy to understand but in no way impressive. It just sounds like everything in the sound field has mushed together, with the exception of the new dialogue. I'm not sure the movie is entirely dubbed, because some of the lines synch with actor's mouths, but it's clearly not all in the original language. No subtitles are provided, either. Boo.
A lone interview (11:11) with director Joe D'Amato is the only real extra on this disc, and although there are some funny anecdotes here about the Emmanuelle films that he directed, the interview doesn't mention The Alcove at all! I guess an extra is an extra, and it makes some sense to assume that D'Amato's fans will pick up this DVD, but it'd be better suited for any Emmanuelle releases that Severin has. As a side note, this old, analog clip might have benefitted from some subtitles to help with D'Amato's thick accent, although I caught what he was saying 95% of the time.
The film's original theatrical trailer has also been included.
I have to imagine that D'Amato and The Alcove have a fanbase that's just ready and waiting for this disc, and the film looks and sounds no worse than is to be expected. The bonus features are more than lacking -- they don't even talk about this movie, and good Lord, are there things to talk about -- but nonetheless, I give this disc a solid recommendation.
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