Color, 1975, 80 mins. 37 secs.
Directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Starring Naomi Tani, Hideo Murota, Misa Ohara, Taiji Tonoyama,Tomoko Mayama, Terumi Azuma, Kôji Fujiyama, Kôji Fujiyama, Sami Suzuki
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
If you ever wondered what a kinky Japanese version of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" might look like, look no further than A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse, an outrageous horror-sex Toei production that packs more into 80 minutes than many viewers' brains will be able to handle. An exploitation buffet from start to finish, this admittedly hits a fairly specialized audience who want equal portions of soapy naked bodies and blood-spraying supernatural mayhem, but if that's up your alley, prepare to find a new favorite film.
When public prostitution is abolished in the late '50s in Japan, one brothel decides to pivot and transform into a Turkish bathhouse where each girl will have her own bathing room for discreet private pleasure with her clients. One of the employees, sweet-natured cat aficionado Yukino (Flower and Snake and Wife To Be Sacrificed's Tani), balks at the new arrangement, much to the displeasure of the current management. Yukino is dedicated to her boyfriend, Yûzô Shikauchi (Murota), who's racked up hefty gambling debts and is about to be pulverized by mob thugs. Yukino intervenes and goes back to work, not realized her man set the whole thing up since he's actually a shadow owner in the business as well. More complications lead to Yukino living in the bathhouse full time just after her sister Mayumi (Ohara) moves into the house, leaving the younger sibling at Yûzô's mercy and set up to become a bathhouse girl herself. When a very sadistic, public attempt to take care of Yukino's sudden pregnancy goes too far, the bathhouse turns into the site of multiple homicides, suicides, soapy carnal encounters, interred bodies, and feline-faced revenge from beyond the grave.
Mixing erotica with Poe wasn't exactly a groundbreaking idea by this point, with Sergio Martino having already brought "The Black Cat" into sexy giallo territory in 1972 with Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. However, this one ups the ante with a wide range of sex scenes (some verging so far into slapstick you could get tonal whiplash) and a wild second half complete with a flying black kitty, plentiful gore, and a lady cat demon in a glittery white fright wig that's more than worth the wait. Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi isn't normally cited as a major Japanese auteur, but he did give us most of the Sister Street Fighter films as well as outrageous gems like Wolf Guy. Here he shows he can deliver the strong stuff with one particular S&M sequence that's tough to take even if you've seen dozens of Nikkatsu softcore films. The film is also gorgeous on a visual level from its striking, very stylized main title sequence to the shadowy apartment and bathhouse scenes and the spectacular horror funhouse finale.
Very difficult to see after its theatrical run, A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse made its global Blu-ray debut in 2022 from Mondo Macabro featuring a new 2K scan from the negative. As expected, it looks great with the wild bursts of color during the avenging ghost scenes coming off best -- and of course the plentiful flesh tones look accurate. As with the majority of Japanese-supplied transfers, the black levels are a notch lighter than standard for displays here so you may want to adjust slightly on your display. The DTS-HD MA Japanese 2.0 mono track (with optional English subtitles) sounds excellent with the lively music score faring very well. An informative and enthused new audio commentary from Samm Deighan covers the fusion of pinky violence and ghost cat film found here, the narrative conventions and commercial requirements of the time, Tani's background that made her a roman porno favorite, and the issues with decrying these films as being exploitative especially when the star was so regularly involved in the creative process. "White Cat in Showa Soapland" (6m57s) with Patrick Macias, author of TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion, covers the real-life prostitution law change that kicks the plot into motion, the role of these bathhouses in '70s sexploitation, the ghost cat tradition already seen in films by studios like Daiei, the state of Toei at the time and its mandate to ramp up eroticism at all costs, and Yamaguchi's other cinematic contributions. Macias returns for the brief "Silent Waves" (3m43s), a more general overview of Toei's limited horror output including House of Terrors, genre fusions like this one and Wolfguy, TV fare like Kamen Rider, and their most famous contribution, the Ju-on series. Finally you get the original trailer, which promises one of the greatest come-ons in movie history: "Breasts bumping! Legs entwined! Bodies in bubbles! Porno with occultism!"
Reviewed on December 25, 2022