A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse (Bakeneko Toruko furo) (1975)
Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (Sister Street Fighter, Delinquent Girl Boss) was widely considered one of the least talented Toei directors of his time. He’s been ridiculed by critics, audiences and theatres alike. When Laputa Asagaya ran a retrospective of Yamaguchi’s films in Tokyo in 2015, the catch copy was “Message? Theme? What are those?” Yet, the man helmed some of the most outrageous films of the 70s. Here is one of them, a 1975 cursed cat erotic horror flick loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe!
A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse stars Nikkatsu starlet Naomi Tani as an abused wife sold to a brothel to cover her husband’s (Hideo Murota) debts. The deceitful husband is actually behind it all, and in cahoots with the brothel owner who is his lover. Tani discovers the truth and gets whipped to death (terribly ironic considering she survived all her Roman Porno SM flicks alive). However, the dead woman’s soul won’t overlook the injustice.
If that sounded like a spoiler, I’ve only described the film’s beginning. Once Tani is out of the picture, the character’s less charismatic younger sister (Misa Ohara) enters the storyline. She will be the film’s focus from here on, although there’s less fun to be had about her detective story than Hideo Murota occasional sleaze bag antics.
A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse is a real Frankenstein job. Masahiro Kakefuda (Horrors of Malformed Men, 1969) and Nobuaki Nakajima’s (Tokyo Deep Throat, 1975) script steals ideas from Poe’s The Black Cat. The film takes place in a Turkish Bathhouse, a popular topic for Toei’s erotic films and documentaries at the time. The bathhouse, populated by bare breasted girls, doesn’t look too different from the Shogun’s palace seen in Teruo Ishii and Norifumi Suzuki’s films. Star Naomi Tani was of course borrowed from Nikkatsu and together with her came the SM film elements.
A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse also launched director Yamaguchi’s unrelated series of animal themed films. In this film Tani’s vengeful soul finds a new body in a black cat that begins terrorizing the evil doers. Yamaguchi later directed Karate Bull Fighter (1975), Karate Bear Fighter (1975), Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975), and Which is Stronger: Karate or the Tiger (1976), all of which were martial arts films where man fought the fore-mentioned beasts. Bizarrely awesome.
A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse is at its best, and weakest, in the long finale where the vengeful cat flies around slaughtering her enemies and eventually turns into a runway cast member of the Cats musical. It’s all positively insane, but any real horror is long gone by this point. The poor cat, which is being thrown around the room by the crew, doesn’t look even remotely menacing. The ending also pales in comparison to Yamaguchi’s later movie Wolfguy, which was even more insane and benefitted from a better technical execution. Indeed, despite being a movie of different genre, A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse feels something of a dress rehearsal for Wolfguy, only with less violence and no karate.
A Haunted Turkish Bathhouse is 90 minutes of boobs, violence, supernatural horror that isn’t scary, funky score, occasional apocalyptic sunsets, and bloody cat attacks. It’s a fun film and never boring, but it isn’t quite as far-out as one would wish, especially when compared to the amazing Wolfguy. Consider it Yamaguchi’s House-lite, Toei Porno style.