[Note that this review contains spoilers]
Imagine, if you will, Dr Terror’s House of Horrors being remade as a hardcore porn film and you begin to get an idea of what Diversions is like.
For this 1975 entry from British sex film auteur Derek Ford, understandably only released at the time in the UK in a severely truncated form, uses the same device of a group of passengers in a train compartment as the means for framing and connecting a series of short stories.
The Amicus connection is further enhanced by the fact that one of the five stories features a magic camera purchased from an antiques shop that could easily have been From Beyond the Grave’s Temptations Limited. Another presents a decidedly E.C. Comics-like punchline to a scenario inspired by a Vampirella comic; presumably the film either flew under the radar of Vampirella publishers Warren or they were understandably disinclined to draw wider attention to its existence.
Not, however, that Amicus’s Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky would ever have dreamt of making a film with hardcore sex, let alone sex and violence together in two of the segments.
The film manages to just about get away with their combination thanks to their clear framing as fantasy rather than reality, although there is also the inevitable sense of purportedly female fantasies being presented from a male perspective for a presumed male viewer.
We begin with a voice off establishing the fact that a female prisoner, identified only as Brown, is being transported by two officers, one male and one female, to begin a five year sentence for assault.
As the train gets underway we become party to thoughts of the prisoner – or more precisely the woman we are invited to presume is the prisoner – played by Heather Deeley.
First, the man opposite offers her an apple – the symbolism is obvious – prompting a recollection of an early sexual encounter on a farm.
Next, the sight of the creepy looking man opposite reading Vampirella leads to a fantasy sequence in which the woman imagines killing and castrating a man in revenge for his having been one of a group of soldiers who gang raped her when she was serving as a nurse in a war. (Though Vampirella is shown, aspects of the scenario and mise-en-scene here seem more like Guido Crepax's Valentina, particularly as filmed in Corrado Farina's Baba Yaga.)
After writing around in bloody ecstasy whilst playing with the severed penis/phallus, the woman cleans herself up and goes to Soho in search of a new victim. She finds an opera-cloaked young man, takes him back to her place and, mid coitus, brings out her concealed knife. This time, however, the blade refuses to sink into his flesh. It is not that its nature as a theatrical prop is now evident – though this could certainly have been the case, given the nightmare logic – but rather that, as his opera cloak get up had earlier hinted at, he is in fact a vampire.
The vampire lovers
Sex, death, penetrating and being penetrated in more ways than one. This is heavy stuff...
Following this, a newspaper advertisement leads into scenario in which the woman imagines moving into an apartment formerly occupied by a call girl and, after getting annoyed about callers inquiring about Miss Whiplash’s large chest for sale, encouraging an apparent misunderstanding with the attractive looking young man who comes to the door.
We then move back into sex and violence territory as the arrival of the ticket collector prompts the woman’s fantasy of torture at the hands of a mixed gender trio of secret police types from an unidenfitied totalitarian state.
The final scenario is considerably lighter. The aforementioned antique camera transports the woman back into to Victorian times where she enjoys a three-way romp with a moustache-twirling villain type and a maid.
Some of those 'Other Victorians'
As the train reaches its destination and the prisoner is transferred there is a nice reversal of expectation as it is revealed the woman whose fantasies we have been party to is not the prisoner but the police officer escorting her. It adds a little extra frisson and ends the film on a nice note, with something extra for us to think about if we are so inclined. (It's also a riff on The Narrow Margin, admittedly.)
Though not entirely successful, within its two sex and violence sequences Diversions achieves an intensity rare, perhaps even unique, within British sex-horror-fantasy cinema. It stands comparison with the kind of thing Jesus Franco and Alberto Cavallone were doing around the same time on the continent with the likes of Doriana Grey and L'uomo la donna e la bestia respectively.
You can take that as a recommendation ;-)