• Penitentiary II (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: February 27th, 2018.
    Director: Jamaa Fanaka
    Cast: Leon Isaac Kennedy, Ernie Hudson, Mr. T., Rudy Rae Moore, Stephanie Mills, Eugenia Wright
    Year: 1982
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    The Movie:

    Picking up pretty much right where the first film leaves off, Penitentiary 2 finds Martel ‘Too Sweet’ Gordone out of the joint and living at his sister’s place. They enjoy some Coors while he spends his days sweeping floors and doing manual labor at the local boxing ring where Mr. T (who plays himself here) rules the local amateur boxing scene, even taking on sonsofbitches who come at him with a razor blade.

    One night, when his sister and her husband go away for the weekend with their son, Too Sweet decides it’s prime time to entertain his lady friend and the two of them make with the romance. How? They slam in his favorite eight-track and get ready for love, until she requests a little hygiene time. She wants a shower before they get it on – fair enough. It’s good to be considerate like that, male or female. But little does Too Sweet know that his arch enemy from his time in the big house, Half Dead (this time around played this time out by Ernie Hudson, Ghostbuster extraordinaire), has broken into his house and hid himself in the bathroom. Two Sweet’s girlfriend goes to freshen up and have a shower, and Half Dead sees his chance to get even, so he locks the door and rapes her and kills her.

    When Too Sweet finally decides she’s been in there long enough, he finds out what has happened and a brawl between the two rivals ensues. Half Dead ends up on the wrong side of a toilet lid and hospitalized under police supervision. But it’s not long before his cohorts break him out and he’s back on his mission to take down Too Sweet once and for all. Meanwhile, our hero has decided to make a shot at going pro in the boxing circuit. With the help of Mr. T and Seldom Seen (Malik Carter), he starts making the rounds and seems to have a pretty good shot at it. But once Two Sweet gets a shot at the title, is Half Dead really gonna sit back and let it happen? Of course not. Anything else is spoiler territory and we try not to go there, but before it’s all over there’s roller-skating, rainbow wigs, horny midgets, crossdressers and more – really, this one has something for everone.

    With an infinitely higher camp factor working in its favor, Penitentiary 2 doesn’t have much of the grim and gritty atmosphere that the first one did, instead supplements it with insane roller boogie scenes, horny midgets on the prowl, jive charged dialogue and the always welcome presence of one Mr. Rudy Ray Moore, better known to all you rat soup eatin’ motherfuckers as Dolemite. What we have here is a kitchen sink film, Fanaka having obviously seen the success of his first film and doubled down on the exploitation elements that made it a hit in the first place. At almost two-hours in length this is a surprisingly brisk film, it’s never dull, never boring. There’s always something insane going on, whether it is a length boxing match between Too Sweet and the champion he needs to take down to earn his place at the top or a fight between a clown-wigged Ernie Hudson and a bad ass Mister T happening backstage. The whole subplot with Too Sweet’s family and girlfriend doesn’t really go anywhere, it just sets him up to kick the shit out of people, but enough is enough and it works.

    The acting is on par with first movie and it’s fun to see some of the character from the first film, like the flamboyant crossdresser, show up in the sequel. Not that much of it takes place behind prison walls, mind you, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a fun ride, and if you’ve ever wanted to see Mr. T. and Ernie Hudson go toe to toe, this is the movie for you. It takes everything that was great and socially relevant about the first movie and tosses it out the window in favor of pure and utter nonsense – and the movie couldn’t be better for it.


    Vinegar Syndrome brings Penitentiary 2 to Blu-ray for the first time ‘newly scanned and restored in 2k from the 35mm original camera negative’ framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and it looks great. Previously released on crummy looking non-anamorphic DVD from Xenon, this is a massive upgrade. Outside of a vertical scratch that happens during the pool scene there’s very little print damage here at all. Colors look excellent, skin tones are spot on and black levels are nice and deep without crushing out detail. There’s a natural amount of film grain here, but it’s never distracting and the picture is free of obvious mpeg compression, edge enhancement or noise reduction. All in all, this is a clean, clear, detailed film-like transfer that should make fans of the film more than happy.

    Audio chores for the feature are handled by the English language DTS-HD Mono track. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow and the score has good resonance and clarity. There were spots in the first film where there was a bit of echo, but that doesn’t happen here. Dialogue is clean, clear and very easy to follow. There are no audible issues with any hiss or distortion and the levels are nicely balanced. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    Fanaka contributes another commentary, and this time out he’s a little more talkative than he was on the release for the first film, thought not by much. Some good information is covered here and it’s interesting to hear him talk about the film and its eclectic cast of performers and it’s also interesting to hear about the financing that occurred for the sequel after the first film proved to be a money maker. There are also trailers for Penitentiary 1 and Penitentiary 2. The back of the keep case touts ‘original production stills and outtakes’ but there aren’t on the disc as far as I could tell.

    From there, check out In The Raw, an archival interview with Jamaa Fanaka entitled In The Raw. Over the span of twenty-eight minutes he talks about creating a sequel to the original, dealing with lawyers and all the red tape inherent in the film industry, the involvement of United Artists, bringing Kennedy back to play Too Sweet, learning from experience, how and why grindhouse audiences talked to the screen and lots more. Vinegar Syndrome also includes Too Sweet On The Outside, which is a new interview with Leon Isaac Kennedy. Over the span of sixteen minutes, in a much more coherent fashion, Kenney talks about the length between the sequels, the screw up on the part of the promoters who didn’t get Mister T up front the way they should have, the popularity of Suzanne Summers and how it tied into Penitentiary 2, working with Fanaka on the second film, what worked and what didn’t work with the film, the marketing behind the picture and lots more.

    Outside of that the disc also includes the film’s original theatrical trailer, an isolated score selection, animated menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD version of the movie containing the same supplements that are found on the Blu-ray disc, and on top of all that the first 1500 copies purchased from Vinegar Syndrome’s website come with an exclusive slipcover. Oh, and there’s some very cool reversible cover art included with this release as well.

    The Final Word:

    It’s hard to take this entry in the series seriously after the first films gritty approach, but fans of campy blaxploitation films will eat this one up. If nothing else, this is a ridiculously entertaining picture with action, insanity and colorful characters galore. Vinegar Syndrome has done an excellent job bringing this to Blu-ray with a fantastic transfer and accompanied by some great extra features.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!