Wednesday, 4 January 2012

PENITENTIARY 3 (1987) Leon Issac Kennedy

Everyone has a favourite ROCKY movie, some prefer the grittiness of the 1976 original, others love the music-video 80's jingoism of Rocky IV. My favourite is Rocky III, closely followed by the (much-maligned) Rocky V.
In the crazy universe of the Penitentiary movies, I've always preferred Penitentiary II, but after my fourth viewing of Penitentiary III in the space of a week (I shit thee not) it's dawned on me how (bat-shit) crazy PIII actually is. Sure, PII has crop-tops, roller-boots, and a Arabian-attired Mr T (not to mention a great Rudy Ray Moore cameo) But in retrospect, it's suddenly dawned on me that PIII makes PII look like Raging Bull in comparison.

Once again, Jamaa Fanaka (lousy name....but worth a score of 27+ in 'Scrabble') directs. And he wastes little time, by getting straight to the action, as we witness Martel 'Too-Sweet' Cordone (Leon Issac Kennedy) battling it out in the ring against El Cid. The commentators explain that Too-Sweet and El Cid have a great respect for one another and are friends outside the ring. But unbeknown to Too-Sweet, his shady trainer has slipped a 'strength inducing drug' into his water, resulting in our hero going fucking apeshit and pulling all kinds of WWF-moves in the boxing ring, eventually killing his opponent (whilst the trainer that drugged him screams "That's enough Too-Sweet!" .....what an asshole!)

Sat in the back of a paddy wagon, a voice over informs us that Too-Sweet has been given 3 years in the 'Pen' for manslaughter. The slow 'sax' music during this sequence, is soon revealed (in true Naked Gun style) to be an actual saxophonist in the vehicle with them (how and where he managed to hide that, is Anyone's guess?) But this scene serves as an early warning of the many 'What-The-Fuck' moments to come.

(Sax and Violence)

Roscoe puts down his sax and informs our hero (and us) that the Penitentiary has a boxing league, and that the warden is looking for talent for his upcoming tournament. But Too-Sweet just wants to do his 'time' and keep out of trouble. There's another guy in the van (some mulleted Michael Nouri looking motherfucker) who keeps boasting about murdering his wife.

The warden tries to convince Too-Sweet to join the boxing contest, but our hero refuses to join his team. However, what Gordone doesn't know is that the Warden is deep in gambling debts to the real power behind the prison...... millionaire Serenghetti (played by Billy Drago wannabe, Anthony Geary) replete with 'Muttley-like-asthmatic laugh, long-winded speeches and camp gestures.

(Sausage casserole was on the menu most nights)

may be an inmate, but he's so fucking rich, his cell resembles a mansion. He has a live-in 'he/she' bitch (named Cleo) a french waiter, red curtains covering the bars and (wait for it) his own privately filmed access of the prison gymnasium.

Soon enough the Michael-Nouri-lookalike soon loudmouths his way into trouble and later that night is paid a visit by Serengetti's toughest weapon...a fierce Black Dwarf, kept in an underground dungeon and fed a staple diet of 'blurry' pornography and crack cocaine.

His name is 'The Midnight Thud' and his objectives are as follows:

1) Grunt insanely.
2) Wear leather fetish gear.
3) Rape the living shit out of fresh inmates.
4) Have a peanut shaped cranium.

(Three meals a day....Four on 'Shower Nights')

Thud is dragged by chains from his dungeon, by two guards (one of which has the worse comedy stutter EVER) and thrown into the loud-mouths cell, where he is brutally raped/beaten (Thankfully this 'Romantic-Interlude' takes place off-screen) although we still get to hear the screaming inmates shouting such pleasantries as "Break him in for me Thud!" during the assault.

Too-Sweet turns down Serengetti's offer to box for his team...resulting in 'The Pint-sized pervert' being unleashed to our hero's cell. However, Too-sweet will not break or (literally) bend to the 'Thudsucker Proxy', resulting in one of the funniest, perverse fights ever committed to film. Too Sweet (clad only in underpants) goes 'Mano-O-Half-Mano with the degenerate dwarf. And just when You think it can't get any crazier, Midnight Thud starts waving his arms around and starts flying around the cell (I shit thee not)

Much 'fisting' later (oohh-eeerr!) Too-sweet looks defeated (gasp!) Thud takes time from his homosexual rape duties to snack on one of Too-sweets Oranges (big mistake fucko!) as the theft of fruit from the 'fruity thief' (geddit?) enrages our battered hero, who makes little haste in throwing the pint-sized rapist head first into the prison gate (ouch!) The guards return to find Too-Sweet with both orange (and 'Cherry') intact. Serengetti' doesn't like this, and has 'Thud' returned to his dungeon (for more 'Snap, Crack And popshots') and orders Too-sweet to be tortured with electrodes. It transpires (in flashbacks) that Midnight Thud has also had 'shock therapy' treatment.

(Not the first time Roscoe had 'Sweet Nut' all over his back)

Alone, battered, bruised (and in serious need of some hair-activator) Too-sweet is a shadow of his former self. With only the dungeon rats for company. Roscoe, drops on by the dungeon, bringing food and news of the upcoming boxing contest. And amazingly enough, Roscoe wants the 'Sweet-One' to train him(don't ask?) The warden agrees but insists that any training be done in the dungeon (away from the prying camera of Serengetti) Sadly, the training involves little more than a squatting Two sweet ordering Roscoe to run up and down the smoke filled dungeon (with the occasional sit-up thrown in for diverse measure)

(I think I prefer Serengetti's girlfriend?)

The tournament starts (hell there's even female boxers) and (amazingly, given his shite training montage) Roscoe is doing well and to show his gratitude to his mentor, he not only fights under the name of 'SWEET-NUT' (insert crude gag here)....But he also sets up Too-Sweet with a female boxer (see above) And whilst the 'Sweet One' is 'knocking the boots' in the locker-room, Roscoe faces one of Serengetti's toughest fighters, named 'See-Veer' (played by none other than Danny-Fucking-Trejo!) But See-Veer has been given the same 'drug' that landed Too-Sweet in the joint in the first place.

(Roscoe vs Trejo)

Roscoe gets the initial upper hand, but See-Veer (and his super-drug) are too powerful, resulting in 'Sweet-Nut' in a state of 'Uber-Fubar' Forcing (a once reluctant) Too-sweet to throw his hat into the tournament, and threatening to go (quote) "No Holds Barred" with any of Serengetti's men...including his number one henchman (and Hulk Hogan wannabe) Hugo. The Warden agrees to the fight to go ahead, and Too-Sweet returns to the dungeon to prepare for his upcoming battle Royal.

("Showin' how funky and strong is your fight...It doesn't matter who's wrong or right")

More lame training montages continue....That is, until the biggest fucking turnaround (in a movie already full of epic turnarounds).....Midnight Thud becomes a good guy (having given up the institutionalised male rape and murder) and begs Too-Sweet to help him train. Midnight Thud (who's real name is revealed to be Jessop) trains Too-Sweet in the spiritual side of fighting (oh, and also the crazy merits of slamming dungeon doors on your pupils arms?)

("Could I just leave you this Jehovah Witness pamphlet...Argghh!")

Serengetti tries to offer Hugo a vial of the case Too-Sweet gets the upper hand. But hugo (replete with gold lamé robe) refuses. Ten floors below the prison, the warden is giving Too-Sweet a last minute pep-talk about winning, and taking Serengetti to the cleaners (thus reclaiming power of the prison) Whilst at the same time offering Two-Sweet use of Roscoe's robe (on the provision that it'll bring him luck) Given that Roscoe is still hospitalised and on a's hardly a 'Lucky Charm' it?

("Check out my new iphone")

Cut to the big fight and after a brief posing contest between Hugo and Jessop (don't ask?) The camera pans to Too-Sweet, decked out in a black codpiece and lightweight gloves (think Bruce Lee at the beginning of Enter The Dragon) . And the 'Bruce-Lee-isms' don't end there folks, because Ol' Too Sweet starts adopting some Game Of Death style fighting tactics towards his bigger opponent. Given that Leon Issac Kennedy rarely convinced as a genuine boxer...he makes a even less convincing martial artist...But the sudden lapse into kung-foolery (probably at the insistence of Cannon) only makes it funnier!

(Oh dear!)

During this lengthy fight, the emphasis switches from Boxing to martial arts to wrestling (replete with jessop and his non-stop audible rants of "Oak Tree" and "Inner Man" (not the best phrase for a former gay rapist to utter) But given his Jamaican patois, it sounds like "Enema" anyhow?

(Bruce Leeroy)

Too Sweet continues with the Bruce Lee mannerisms (hands on knees, the nose wipe, the fighting yelps) Whilst Hugo finds his inner Hulk Hogan, and starts throwing our hero around in wrestling moves. But just as it appears to settle into generic 'Punchfight' mode, Fanaka throws in one final scene of utter fucking madness. Hugo throws Two-Sweet flying across the room in slo-mo. Bouncing off a wall, Too-Sweet leaves a blood-stained pattern of the 'Crucifix' (replete with Biblical organ music) not only allowing Too-Sweet the spiritual strength to continue, but also the physical strength required to kick several shades of shite out of Hugo. This long confirms what many exploitation fans had secvretly guessed since the early eighties...Penitentiary is a metaphor for the Bible (sort of?)

(The Biblical denouement)

With the fight over, Too-Sweet races to Serengetti's plush cell (it seems that man-bitch Cleo has long gone) and our Hero slaps the tyrant around a little, before proclaiming that Serengetti is not worth it (weird, because Serengetti masterminded everything bad that happened to Too-Sweet throughout the movie?)

("I'm not gay...but my boyfriend is!")

The warden (who has now reclaimed power from Serengetti, due to a hefty wager on the fight) is pleased as punch with our hero, and (whilst leading him back to his dungeon, nonetheless) fills Too-Sweet in on some last minute (let's-tie-the-whole-plot-up) bullshit information, including:

1) Two-Sweet can return back upstairs in the Penitentiary
2) Roscoe is on the mend
3) He's kept some money aside for a good lawyer for Too-Sweet
4) He promises to "Never misappropriate prison funding again" (Surely illegal?)
5) A cure for AIDS (ok, I made that last one up...but it would have rounded things off nicely?)

Two-Sweet prefers the peace of the dungeon, so the warden walks away (probably uninterested) with a shit eating grin on his chubby face (When quite frankly, 'Gambling with State prison funds' makes the warden the biggest criminal in the movie.)

And just when you think the goodtimes have ended, the movie ends on a bitchin' late 80's synth soul ballad, entitled 'Doing Time' and sung (if that's the correct term?) by Bruce Fisher. It's a haunting ballad (that combines the complexities of both Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues and Ice-T's The Tower sang with all the intensity of Philip Michael Thomas )

I've lovingly sat down and deciphered all the haunting lyrics, and typed them up, for your musical pleasure.

Lost a woman...And a family
Gave me a number...took my i-i-i-dentity

I might as well be living on Mars

Locked behind these bars.

I'm......Doing time

I'm......Doing time

Lost my free-e-dom....and my dignity

To the outside world...I'm just a memory

I might as well be living on Mars
Than behind these bars.

Oooohhh...I'm......Doing time

I-i-i-i-i'm......Doing time

(Sax solo)

I might as well be living on Mars

Than behind these bars...Behind these bars.

Doing time

Doing time

When I was out there on on the street
I thought I was having fun
Now I won't breathe the free air
Until the year two-thousand-one
And if you see my mother, ask her will she pray for me

Cause' they're trying to steal my soul in this Penitentiary

I'm......Doing tiiiiiiiiiime Ooooh, oooh
Iiiiiii'm...yes I'm doing time

(Nothing wrong with 'putting an old friend up' for the night)

Penitentiary III is a must for bad-movie lovers. What should have been a generic 'Cannon' action pic, becomes one of their most obscure and interesting 'risk' movies since Barfly or Tough Guys Don't Dance (and I say that in all seriousness) And it's not to say that Penitentiary III isn't chock full of clichés....It's the almost surreal and rapid fire way they're all trotted out, that sets it apart from other 'action' movies. Don't believe me?....check out the scene where Midnight Thud exhales crack fumes to a nearby rat. I haven't seen anything THAT twisted since the Frog sequence from The Nightcomers (1972)

Jamaa Fanaka still can't tell a coherent story (nor direct traffic in Lapland) but that sort of works in the favour of the trilogy. Regardless of your favourite in the series, they all retain that twisted (almost perverse) lack of logic, that never really altered from the original in 79 to this one in 87. Whilst other movie franchises (big or small) moved on with the times, the Penitentiary saga stuck to it's surreal outlook throughout. If it aint broke......

Leon Issac Kennedy has always been a likeable presence in everything he's put his name to. It's a shame he got out of acting, and became a minister, but i guess our loss, is Gods gain. As it is, he's left a pretty good legacy a movies in his brief career. I don't know if he'd be willing to come back for one more round as Martel Cordone (hey, if Stallone can do it......why not Kennedy?) And Fanakka is still 'above ground' (so to speak) So here's to hoping?

Before I get too maudlin (and start crying) let me finish this (already, overextended) review, by whole-heartedly recommending Penitentiary III (and the other two) as three of the finest examples of low-budget, off-beat, crazy, beer-and-buddies movies ever created. It's just a shame I had to convert my old VHS version over to DVD+R to get the required screenshots for my review. This badboy has yet to have a DVD release. All of the Penitentiary movies should be available on hi-def 26 disc Blu-Ray/DVD combi packs (as of yesterday)

Highly Recommended


  1. I haven't seen these movies in forever, I need to go track them down. I'd forgotten how fun they were.

  2. Great write-up! Will have to start watching these movies!