When softcore fans think of Joe D’Amato, they undoubtedly think of the 1970s. His name is forever linked with that of his favorite actress, Laura Gemser, who appeared as Emanuelle in numerous globe-trotting softcore epics from the latter part of that decade. Emanuelle defined the era. So, to me The Alcove always felt like an afterthought, coming out as it did in 1984, a good seven years after the high point of the Emanuelle series.
However, this new release of an uncut version by Severin Films has made me re-appreciate this movie’s place in history. The Alcove pairs the frequent nudity of D’Amato’s softcore work with some of the cruelty of his horror work, and glosses it over with the high society sheen of a Tinto Brass epic. It’s not your ordinary D’Amato film, and it finds him branching out into new directions.
The movie stars Al Cliver as Elio, an army commander returning from Africa with an unusual spoil of war: a slave girl named Zerbal (Laura Gemser). His wife Alessandra (Lilli Carati) has been shacking up with her demure assistant Vilma (Annie Belle), and neither of them are happy about the intrusion of this new girl. In an odd ceremony involving a lot of licking, Cliver gives over control of Zerbal “body and soul” to Alessandra, who at first treats her horribly, but then begins to enjoy her new toy, much to the annoyance of Vilma, who feels herself being replaced.
All of these actors are veterans of the 1970s softcore scene, but they still look lovely here. In fact, it’s fair to say that this movie features some of Lilli Carati’s best scenes, and without question it’s the best thing Annie Belle ever did. She’s almost unrecognizable here as the mousy Vilma. The sex scenes are just this side of explicit, with more full frontal than you might expect. The period costumes and the general languor of the country villa setting add to the feeling of upper class people who are so bored they have nothing to do but have a lot of sex and be cruel with one another.
Because it eventually becomes cruel. They start to run out of money, and Elio dreams up a scheme to film silent porno movies with the girls. At first they demure, but then Alessandra realizes the possibilities for mischief. “What matters is a good story with lots of passion and intrigue,” she muses as they decide what to shoot. “We must begin with a story that is crude, real, and very cruel.”
What follows is a weird sort of Hamlet-like play-within-a-play involving slaves, nuns, and rape that quite frankly refers on a meta level to the kind of cinematic programming the Italian filmmakers such as D’Amato put out a decade before—exploitation, plantation-’sploitation (okay I made that word up, but the genre exists—look it up), and nunsploitation. Good lord, there’s an allegorical level of meaning to be found in a Joe D’Amato film? What the—?! Did I also mention the nudity?
The movie is fascinating. It’s not the end of an era so much as the beginning of a new one in D’Amato’s work. I will stop short of calling this movie is Joe D’Amato’s Hamlet, especially as there actually is a Joe D’Amato version of Hamlet (For the Love of Ophelia) from his later hardcore days. Like Joe Sarno before him, we softcore fans eventually lost Joe D’Amato to the fast and easy paychecks of the hardcore world. However, there’s an almost forgotten era of D’Amato’s work that begs to be rediscovered.
After The Alcove came Il Piacere and Voglio di guardare, both featuring Carati and Gemser. Then came Eleven Days, Eleven Nights, the 9 1/2 Weeks ripoff that became one of the most successful softcore movies of the 80s. That one inspired a number of sequels including Top Model. And as late as 1988-89, Gemser was STILL appearing in D’Amato films such as Riflessi di luce and Amore sporco. When was the last time you saw any of these movies?
So, Severin Films… are all of these on the way?