This film was really good. Writer and director Jamaa Fanaka was still a student at UCLA and Penitentiary was the first starring vehicle for former disc jockey and future evangelist Leon Isaac Kennedy. If you don't know the story it goes like this; Too Sweet (Leon Isaac Kennedy) is charged with murder, and convicted despite his innocence; he's shipped off to a run-down prison where Jesse Amos (Donovan Womack), one of the prisoners, lords it over the other inmates. Too Sweet ends up sharing a cell with Half Dead (Badja Djola), a violent lunatic who is one of Jesse's musclemen. Too Sweet refuses to buckle under to the intimidation dished out by Half Dead and his cronies, even after seeing how they've "turned out" Eugene (Thommy Pollard), another new fish who has become Jesse's sexual slave. Forced to defend himself even though he hates violence, Too Sweet displays a genuine talent for fighting, and is persuaded to take part in the prison boxing tournament, where he could win a night with a woman or even his freedom. However, Too Sweet sees the deck may be stacked against him when he finds out his opponent is the horrible Half Dead.
After watching this I found the fight between Too sweet and Half dead particularly interesting. Through out this film you will also find some of the characters to be animated with there jail house humor and realism through others such as Too Sweet's trainer. The cinematography wasn't bad also. The use of the wide angle lenses to give the viewer a distorted view was impressive and the way some characters address the camera was interesting and strange at the same time. Some people say that part two is even funnier and I might give it a try later in the future.
This exploitation is a masterpiece, PENITENTIARY (1979) is especially worth watching because of its strange, neo-realism. An almost all-unknown cast (that also contributes a lot to the movie's appeal), realistic 1970s African American dialog and backgrounds, realistic and mind-bending scenes of perverse violence and huge doses of humor make this a blast in every department. It's a must-see if you're a fan of this genre and one to check out.