PENITENTIARY II (1982) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Director: Jamaa Fanaka
Vinegar Syndrome

"Too Sweet" returns in Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray/DVD combo restoration of PENITENTIARY II.

Having made parole after having defeated nemesis Jesse Amos (Donovan Womack) in the ring, Martel "Too Sweet" Gordone (Leon Isaac Kennedy, FIGHTING MAD) is working part time as a delivery boy for his lawyer sister Ellen (Peggy Blow, RABBIT TEST). He is, however, in danger of violating his parole which stipulated that he work for fight trainer Sam Cunningham (Stan Kamber, WELCOME HOME, BROTHER CHARLES) even though Gordone hates boxing. "Half Dead" (now GHOSTBUSTERS' Ernie Hudson) has escaped from the penitentiary and is gunning for Gordone with the help of buddies "Do Dirty" (Cepheus Jaxon, who played another role in PENITENTIARY) and Simp (Marvin Jones). "Half Dead" initially plans to just kill "Too Sweet" but then decides to make him suffer by raping and murdering his girlfriend Clarisse (Eugenia Wright). Gordone puts "Half Dead" in the hospital, but Do Dirty and Simp bust him out of the jail ward and he goes into hiding with his girlfriend Sugar (Ebony Wright). Wanting to make something of himself and be an example to the young men he sees bound for prison. Gordone steps back into the ring and starts training with recently released "Seldom Seen" (Malik Carter, BLACK BELT JONES) and Mr. T for a televised fight at the penitentiary against Jesse Amos. As Cunnigham, Gordone's brother-in-law (Glynn Turman, J.D.'S REVENGE), Seldom Seen, and Mr. T build up Gordone's fanbase with promotions leading up to the fight, "Half Dead" sees a way of making money off Gordone before killing him by making him throw the fight with the lives of his sister, brother-in-law, and Gary Coleman-esque nephew (Sephton Moody) at stake.

Made with apparently a little more money and the marquee value of Mr. T – as well as a fun guest appearance by Rudy Ray Moore (DOLEMITE) – Jamaa Fanaka's sequel to his surprise grindhouse hit PENITENTIARY is overall slicker (courtesy of SAVAGE STREETS D.P. Stephen Posey) and jams more incident into just under two hours. Whereas the first film's levity took the form of incidental comic relief, PENITENTIARY II ping-pongs back-and-forth between not-always-convincing high drama and the surreal. It is to Fanaka's evolving skill that neither extreme dilutes the other, as in the first televised fight in which a midget inmate (Tony Cox, BAD SANTA) tries to score under the ring with a female spectator while Gordone's sister goes into hysterics begging him to quit as he gets brutally pummeled to the surprisingly over-the-top play-by-play from future character actor Dennis Lipscomb (RETRIBUTION). As with the first film, Gordone's romantic interests really are incidental to the rest of the plot, as he picks up a pair of groupies (CAR WASH's Renn Woods and Lyrica Garrett) for himself and Seldom Seen and finds true love. Gordone would return once more in PENITENTIARY III for Cannon Films.

Released theatrically by United Artists and then on big box VHS by MGM, PENITENTIARY II's rights would subsequently lapse and the film would be licensed from Fanaka by Xenon Pictures for a 2000 DVD release featuring a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer with a commentary by Fanaka. For the longest time, this was the only master for the film, showing up on ArrowDrome's double-feature DVD in the U.K. and even on television from MGM who still had broadcast rights for a time. Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from a brand new 2K restoration of the original camera negative is brighter and more boldly colored – the better for the bloodshed and Hudson's rainbow-colored wig – while also revealing more picture information on the sides and bottom of the frame (not particularly revelatory but looking less cramped). The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track boast clear dialogue and a bit more umph to the funky scoring of Jack Wheaton (CAT IN THE CAGE) which is also available on an isolated score track (in Dolby Digital 1.0). Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

The audio commentary with Fanaka has been carried over, and it is a low-key and sporadic track in which he lists off some of the films that influenced him as a filmmaker, more so in gearing up his passion for the art form rather than in terms of imitation or homage (apart from the STAR WARS-esque scrolling text during the opening sequence). He briefly discusses his earlier films (forthcoming from Vinegar Syndrome) and his desire with PENITENTIARY and PENITENTIARY II to produce films himself to have more of a financial stake in their success before also recalling how he got screwed by distributors. Most entertaining are his recollections about getting Rudy Ray Moore for a scene as well as how Mr. T kept his genie costume from the film and wore it for several magazine covers in later years. "In the Raw" (27:37) is an archival interview with Fanaka in which he again rails against distributors, lawyers, and contracts while also seeing a more hopeful future in digital filmmaking and self-distribution. He also expounds upon the freedom that the grindhouse offered filmmakers in terms of exploring subject matter, how SAG rarely went after actors who worked on his non-union projects, and finding out that there were plenty of good actors who were not in the union.

In "Too Sweet on the Outside" (16:13), actor Kennedy recalls that there was a disagreement over who owned the sequel rights when Jerry Gross and Billy Fine parted ways. In the ensuing period, Fine went to work for Cannon Films and cast him in BODY & SOUL before the rights situation was sorted out. He recalls with bitterness that the producers did not want to pay to get some of the original cast back and had even recast his lead role – he leaves the story of how he got back into the film for those who buy his book – and how he was friends with Sylvester Stallone and knew that Mr. T would become big on ROCKY III which was in the can but not yet released. He suggested to Fanaka that they cast Mr. T and banked on his marquee value from the release of the Stallone film only for United Artists to release PENITENTIARY II first. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (2:27). The cover is reversible. (Eric Cotenas)