A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: January 10, 2023 (website exclusive LE September 20, 2022)
Audio: Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Run Time: 80:37
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
A low-level gangster sells his wife, Yukino (Naomi Tani), into prostitution under the guise of covering his debts, but the deal is actually a ruse hatched alongside his secret lover, the brothel’s madame. After discovering the truth, Yukino is tortured to death, only to return as a vengeful ghost.
Following his success making delinquent girl gang (Tokyo Bad Girls [Japanese: Zubekô banchô: yume wa yoru hiraku, 1970]), martial arts (Sister Street Fighter [Japanese: Onna hissatsu ken 1974]), and yakuza movies (Wandering Ginza Butterfly [Japanese: Ginchô wataridori, 1972]), director Kazuhiko Yamaguch spent 1975 combining his favorite genres with horror, creating a criminal/espionage werewolf film called Wolf Guy (Japanese: Urufu gai: Moero ôkami-otoko; aka: Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope) and the era’s ultimate exploitation mish-mash, A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse (Japanese: Bakeneko Toruko furo). In an effort to fill seats, Yamaguchi and screenwriters Masahiro Kakefuda & Nobuaki Nakajima prepare a veritable smorgasbord of the era’s most controversial types of movies – yakuza, brothel drama (sort of an offshoot of women-in-prison and white slavery movies), pinku eiga softcore, and ero-guro torture. They can’t deliver on every single one of these promises, but they sure try in a froth of gyrating nudity and extreme (for the time) bloodshed.
Beneath the veneer of sex and violence are the bones of a kaibyō eiga or ‘ghost cat’ movie. Based in folklore, the bakeneko was a shapeshifting feline spirit that could take human form and ghost cat movies dealt almost exclusively with bakeneko women who were seeking vengeance from beyond the grave. This dated back to Shigeru Kito’s Arima neko (aka: The Ghost Cat of Arima Palace, 1937) and included a series of ‘50s movies starring actress Takako Irie, though the most famous example is probably Kaneto Shindo’s Kuroneko (1968). While its extreme content and unlikely genre patchwork mark Haunted Turkish Bathhouse as a must-see for cult film fans, what makes it truly compelling is the smutification of these respectable kaidan tropes combined with a measure of genuine artistic integrity. The film is incredibly well shot by Golgo 13 (1973) cinematographer Masahiko Iimura and its unapologetic melodrama in the face of grotesque exploitation is enough to make even a jaded viewer shiver with guilt. Only its poorly dated, googly-eyed comedy really holds it back, though even this serves the purpose of dehumanizing and emasculating the dopey perverts that the prostitutes are forced to contend with.
Introduction to Japanese Horror Film by Colette Balmain (Edinburgh University Press, 2008)
I can’t find any evidence that A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse was ever officially released in North America. There must be a Japanese DVD, because I found (fan-subbed?) bootlegs, including a DVDR on eBay, but nothing official looking. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray was originally available as a limited edition, red box, site exclusive disc, which reportedly had an authoring problem and replacements were issued. There is no such problem with this standard issue version. The transfer was created from a 2K scan of the film negative (I assume done by Toei) and restored by Mondo. Overall, this is a nice, crisp transfer that captures the moody and garish qualities of cinematographer Masahiko Iimura’s photography. Most viewers will find themselves celebrating the strong shadows and consistent colors, which contrasts chilly blues with warm neutral hues, but the soft blends and delicate film grain might be even more impressive, especially given the film’s rarity and age. I would’ve expected dirtier and murkier original materials. On the other hand, black levels are always a bit grey or bluish.
A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio Japanese and its original mono. The sound design is simple, prioritizing dialogue above incidental noises and canned sound effects (usually the cries of a very angry cat or the ‘squinchy,’ samurai-friendly sounds of slashing and slicing flesh). The audio is clean with a low sound floor, but there is some aspirated hiss when characters shout and a bit of crush on the lowest volume levels. Though sparingly used, composer Hiroshi Babauchi’s music adds a lot of mood to the proceedings as it oscillates between avant-garde jazz, prog-rock motifs, and spooky analogue synth breakdowns, similar to what you might hear from an Italian thriller from the same time. The music has plenty of bass and decent aural depth for a mono mix. Babauchi was largely a producer at the time and is only credited with scoring two movies: this one and Wolf Guy the same year.
Commentary with Samm Deighan – The cohost of the Daughters of Darkness podcast (with Kat Elinger) and editor of Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (Spectacular Optical, 2017) discusses the differences between Japanese and American exploitation films during the ‘60s and ‘70s, the careers of the cast & crew, the history and folklore behind Haunted Turkish Bathhouse’s plot and production, and the film’s major genre influences with emphasis on pinky violence and ghost cat movies and the ways the two compliment each other. Really fantastic stuff all around.
White Cat in Showa Soapland (6:57, HD) – The editor-and-chief of Otaku USA magazine, Patrick Macias, briefly breaks down the history of ghost cat movies, Toei’s dependence on sexploitation movies, and the making of Haunted Turkish Bathhouse
Silent Waves: Pocket Guide to Toei Horror (3:43, HD) – Macias returns for an even quicker look back at Toei horror films.
Mondo Macabro trailer reel (a new one!)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.