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Joe D'Amato's sex films vary radically in quality, with SEX PENITENTIARY near the low end of his scale, but even as routine an outing as this one deserved better treatment for its U.S. release. Asinine and probably misleading English-dubbing kills it stone dead.
The other "reviewer" on IMDb, who's going for a world's record in submitting inane comments on mainly short films (he filed over 150 reviews on a single day: May 1st 2011 alone) is typical of today's "consumer" of cinema. He dutifully sits through each & every D'Amato movie (and Jesus Franco's too) and gets nothing out of it -merely chalking up another notch on his "seen that" belt. I prefer to treat the celluloid with a little respect.
Film opens with the very beautiful Simona Valli, as Sarah, having sex with an underling in order to get into an interview with prison head honcho Roberto Malone. The poor dubbing makes it seem like she's applying for a job but instead is incarcerated, after Malone humps her too, for good measure. A subtitled Italian-track version is needed to clear up the improbable plot rendered in the Tip Top video release.
D'Amato eschews all the clichés of the women in stir genre, instead delivering what amounts to an all-sex format. It's unfortunate, because he has cast a beautiful set of women, not the usual suspects, but fresh faces (and bodies).
The prison doctor gets a lot of mileage here, shtupping the femme prisoners after only cursory physical exams, and even serving as the plot cog when Sarah steals his keys to engineer an abortive escape attempt with three of her fellow inmates. Diane is a fink among them who tells Malone about it and they are caught without much trouble.
Pidgin English soundtrack for American viewers has such moronic dialog as the doctor ordering "Take all your buttons off" when he asks a prisoner to disrobe, and yes, she unbuttons her blouse rather than tearing off all the buttons.
Dubbing really lets the viewer down in the character of Sarah's lawyer, whose gibberish in visits with her is clearly not a translation but merely audio filler, confusing the plot line. The desultory happy ending is rendered moot as a result, and unconvincing after what we've seen transpire before.
Malone with shoulder length hair done up in a pony tail and wearing glasses resembles a shorter version of Penn Gillette, good for a quick laugh. He's among the most reliable sex actors in Europe (I just watched him give a terrific performance, acting and sex-wise, as Cesare Borgia in CASTLE OF LUCRETIA, for example) and a plus for SEX PENITENTIARY.
Valli is way too beautiful to have been stuck in porn, and along with her femme co-stars, including a ravishing redhead, makes this assembly line junker worth a watch.
It's marketed as a 35mm film but has the lighting and flat look of a shot-on-video nonetheless.
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