Penitentiary (1979) (Blu-ray/DVD Review)

Penitentiary (1979) (Blu-ray/DVD Review)
Directed By: Jamaa Fanaka
Starring: Isaac Kennedy, Wilbur ‘Hi-Fi’ White, Thommy Pollard
Rated: R/Region O/1:85/1080p/Number of Discs 2
Available from Vinegar Syndrome

Leon Isaac Kennedy stars as Martel “Too Sweet” Gordone who, after unwittingly getting involved with a prostitute and attempting to save her from being assaulted by a John, which turns deadly, finds himself charged with a murder he didn’t commit. Locked up in the state penitentiary, Martel is forced to fend for himself among hardened criminals, until he’s introduced to the underground and lucrative world of in-prison boxing.

We got a rumble behind bars in the old exploitation flick, Penitentiary. Coming to us in 1979, this story follows a character named Too Sweet after he ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and now finds himself inside the Pen. In there he gets on the wrong side of a group of guys who have plans on “busting” and “breaking in” Too Sweet. Only thing is, Too Sweet isn’t a pushover. One thing leads to another and Too Sweet finds himself in a boxing tournament not only to stay alive but to perhaps even earn a way out of the mess he’s in all together. I LOVE a movie like this. I’m a big fan of the more exploitation side of action flicks and this one has all of the elements I love about those movies in it. There’s never a dull moment here because you really have no idea as to just what the heck is going to happen here. From our leading man, Too Sweet, played by Leon Isaac Kennedy, to other characters with such names as Sweet Pea, Half Dead, and Seldom Seen, this is a movie that is just altogether entertaining from start to finish.

We even get time for a little T and A in this one, which is never a bad thing. The blood is tossed around a bit here as well. We don’t have anything like gore effects but when people start fighting blood tends to fly around the screen a lot. This is a grimy and dark film in a lot of ways, but it also has a lot of things to laugh about from time to time as well. That might seem like an odd mix but it works very well here and if you’ve never seen Penitentiary then I highly suggest you check it out for yourself and see why I’m such a big fan of it. This release comes with a great looking transfer as the screenshots will show. It also has not one but two commentaries and an interview with the man himself, Leon Isaac Kennedy. There is also more that I will list below.


Special limited edition embossed slipcover (designed by Earl Kess) is limited to just 1,500 units

– Region free Blu-ray/DVD combo pack
– Newly scanned and restored in 4k from the 35mm original camera negative
– Archival commentary track with Jamaa Fanaka (writer / producer / director)
– Commentary track with Sergio Mims (second assistant director)
– “Too Sweet for Penitentiary” – interview with Leon Isaac Kennedy (lead actor)
– “Filming Penitentiary” – interview with Marty Ollstein (cinematographer)
– “Producing Penitentiary” – interview with Alicia Dhanifu (producer)
– Original theatrical trailer
– English SDH Subtitles

Quality of Transfer: 99%