Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

The Alcove (1985)
Severin Films | Buy at Amazon | Review by Crites

Joe D'Amato (ANTHROPOHAGUS, TRAP THEM AND KILL THEM, HOUSE OF ANAL PERVERSIONS) and Laura Gemser (the Emanuelle series) are both well known on the foreign sleaze film circuit. And when a film such as The Alcove is billed as featuring "A deranged new world of voyeurism, drugs, pornography, lesbian seduction, unholy nuns and more," you know it's got my attention. Even if that's all just part of the distributor's hype, this edition is unrated, uncut and unedited ("For the first time ever in America!") so you know we can expect some wild and inappropriate scenes herein. (Warning: SPOILER.)

We begin with a bit of Sapphic tension taking place in the manor of a military gentleman, as his wife Alexandra (Lilli Carati) unsuccessfully tries to bed her handmaiden Velma (Annie Belle). But Velma demurs, despite their apparently long-standing and intimate companionship, too nervous about getting caught by the man of the house. And rightly so, as hubby Elio Silvestri (Al Cliver) returns from his foreign travels not moments later.

Elio comes bearing gifts, including a native dildo and...an Abyssinian princess named Zerbal (Laura Gemser). Zerbal was given to Elio by a tribal chief whose life he saved during some unnamed campaign, and although the dark and shapely foreigner is intended as a companion and servant for Alexandra, the lady is less than enthused: "Good lord, a negro woman!" she gasps. "Hello. Go and get yourself fucked," says Zerbal when coaxed by Elio to show off her newly-learned English language skills.

Reluctantly Alexandra agrees to keep the princess on as a housekeeper, but from an interaction Zerbal has with the master of the house a short time later it's clear that she has other ambitions. Namely, sexual ones.

In no time at all husband and wife are getting it on in a softcore roll in the hay, while Velma sits alone on the stairs, crying over what may signal the end of her affair with her mistress. But maybe not; the very next day Zerbal spies the two ladies kissing and fondling each other while Elio gets drunk and plays at writing his book. When Zerbal walks in on Elio and Alexandra making the beast with two backs a short time later, her eyes linger over Alexandra's bush until she's ordered to fetch more champagne.

When Elio must leave town to tend to business and family matters it doesn't take long for Velma and Alexandra to change into evening dress and lingerie and curl up on the couch together for some champagne and sexplay. Zerbal watches for a time, then goes outside and pitches a rock through the lounge window.

Upon his return Elio's response to this bizarre and hostile act is to request an apology from Zerbal before presenting her formally to Alexandra to do with as she will. Zerbal shows her acceptance of this change of ownership by licking and undressing Alexandra, a ritual that pleases Velma not at all. (Her unfriendly demeanor toward Zerbal has made itself clear already: "You should keep your tongue in your head, you low person!" she shouted at the fallen princess earlier.) Despite her initial abhorrence however Alexandra quickly warms up to Zerbal, which only causes Velma's animosity to grow. Relegated to the full-time position of Elio's secretary, she's out of the limelight as Alexandra's primary companion and into the green light of mounting jealousy.

On the night Elio's son Furio (Robert Caruso) comes home for a visit, Alexandra slips away from the dinner table to coax Zerbal into bed. Later when Elio drunkenly stumbles upstairs he finds the bedroom door locked, and taking a peek through a crack in the door he sees the women making love. When Velma comes upstairs and joins him she catches an eyeful as well, and in the uncomfortably awkward moments that follow Elio makes her give him a teary-eyed handjob.

The next day Furio continues his so-far-unsuccessful attempts to bed Velma by stepping it up and asking her to marry him. And then going down on her in a fruit orchard. Without receiving a definite answer Furio returns to the navy, and Elio goes to pay his respects to a war widow (who shamelessly tries to seduce him). Zerbal and Alexandra jump into each others' arms straightaway, leaving Velma crying all alone once again.

Soon Alexandra's lining up rails for herself and Zerbal, using a little cocaine to fuel their sex romps. When Velma refuses Alexandra's command to bring them more champagne a nasty argument ensues, ending in Lady Alex's promise to have Velma sacked. But when Elio returns he's in too good a mood to fire anyone; although he apparently passed on the widow's attempt to bed him, he did purchase from her some of her late husband's film equipment and several of the dead man's films.

The movies all turn out to be vintage pornography, some of it quite hardcore, and the three ladies assembled for the screening are all actively fingering each other in the dark when Elio shuts off the projector and announces, "We can do better than that!"

A day or two later Elio follows up on his idea; his bank is squeezing him and finances are tight, so his plan is to shoot some stag films using the subjects at hand and sell these on the private market. But Alexandra and Zerbal immediately balk at the idea, the latter wanting nothing to do with filthy pornography despite the demonstrated easiness of her virtue. But soon Zerbal, who has become increasingly empowered by practically having the run of the household, decides that she will deign to participate on the condition that she be allowed to dictate the film's storyline. One which will involve the rape and enslavement of a princess, as she implies is what happened to her. And this time a white woman is to be the victim.

The Mysteries of the Inquisition finds Velma a prisoner in a convent run by a delusional Mother Superior, played by Alexandra. Accused of practicing witchcraft, Velma's character is to be sexually and sadistically tortured by the Church in a lurid and blasphemous scene intended to gain a confession by punishment. However when she is tied up and the camera starts rolling, Velma finds that the scenario is much different than the script she agreed to. Molested by Alexandra and raped by the skulking groundskeeper, Pepe, Velma passes out.

Upon awakening Velma dresses and removes the reel of film from the camera before bicycling away through the country. As she does so Zerbal is turning the tables on Alexandra, slapping her in the face and defying the once-proud woman's orders. Zerbal tells her former mistress that, "I possess you. You are mine. You are my whore. You are my bitch in heat. You are my slave." And Alexandra submits entirely. In bed a short time later Zerbal demands three things from Alexandra. First she wants her to kill Velma. Then she wants all of the household jewels, knowing full well that as they belonged to Elio's first wife, Furio's blood mother, they actually belong to the boy. And finally she wants Elio to be her slave.

Alexandra spills all of this to Elio, who quickly puts the kibosh on these plans. He will however play along with the slave angle for a while, but only on the condition that he be allowed back into Alexandra's bed. But just as Elio is being ceremonially presented to Zerbal, Velma shows up to make quite a scene. She's got Furio in tow, who's been told the whole story, and when Zerbal demands to be given the sex film Furio throws it into one of the many flaming bowls of oil the group was using to light their little ritual. There's a fiery explosion which catches Zerbal directly, sending her and her diaphanous gown up in flames (in one of the most bogus death-by-fire scenes ever). Nobody makes a move to help her, and that's The End.

And that's that. Somehow, despite all of the bush and a moment or two or actual porn, this picture seems rather tame. And by that I mean boring. Maybe due to the pacing, maybe due to the redundant nature of the scenes, there just doesn't really seem to be a lot going on here except for a bunch of wealthy degenerates acting in unilateral dysfunction. The acting is rather flat, the sex is uninspired, and the film doesn't even make great use of the (apparently) European settings in which it takes place. Maybe titillating if you caught it during your high school years back in the Eighties, but at the moment it's just not too impressive.

Bonus features include a trailer and a brief 'featurette', Talking Dirty with Joe D'Amato that "has suffered some tape degradation." And with his ultra-thick accent it's not only the tape quality that makes this segment difficult to understand. (And will somebody please unplug that fucking phone!) The director talks about, I think, Caravaggio, Laura Gemser and other actors, the Emmanuelle films, and this and that. And again, that's that.

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