A mid-19th century mulatto slave is torn between his success as a pit-fighter and the injustices of white society. In HD.
The pseudo-sequel/follow-up to both the 1975 exploitation film 'Mandingo,' and Kyle Onstott's novel of the same name, 'Drum' is very much in step with its predecessor. For one, the movie welcomes back athlete/actor Ken Norton to the lead role. There are other similarities, too, like the subplot of the slave being trained to become a pit fighter at the Falconhurst plantation. But mostly, the movie continues to focus on the exaggerated sex and violence that marked the first go-round, only here, under the direction of Roger Corman disciple Steve Carver, the film finds itself quickly descending into the realm of pure camp – which, according to the director's commentary, was not necessarily what the director had intended.
And yet, in many cases, the camp, delivered in heaps by Warren Oates' often whimsically bewildered facial expressions as Maxwell Hammond – owner of Falconhurst, the fictional plantation on which both films and Onstott's series of pulp novels were set – and John Colicos, as Bernard DeMarigny, the film's ostensible antagonist, is all that keeps the film from being completely objectionable, by balancing out its amplified and exploitative nature with some much needed humor. Much of that humor comes across as completely self-aware, lending it a deliberate quality that belies Carver's comments about the camp being uncalculated. Throughout the film, Oates and Colicos take it upon themselves to devour as much of the costly recreations of antebellum South as they possibly can, turning the elaborate plantation sets into a masticated jumble with all their voracious scenery chewing.
Oates projects the same affable charm he does in almost all of his performances ('Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia' aside), which makes the inherent and despicable racism of his character an intriguing contradiction. Hammond isn't supposed to be likeable, and yet Oates' depiction of him is often quite amusing. And yet he is (or rather Oates is), especially when Hammond is dealing with his sexually voracious daughter Sophie (played by Cheryl Smith who was credited as Rainbeaux Smith), or Fiona Lewis' Augusta Chauvet. Meanwhile, Colicos goes so far over the top as the stereotypically French DeMarigny, whose sexual predaceousness sets him on an early collision course with Drum, that even in his most wicked of moments, he seems to be inviting as much laughter from the audience as possible.
While Oates and Colicos provide 'Drum' with much of its campiness, it's Yaphet Kotto, as Drum's one-time opponent Blaise, who gives the film its only source of emotional intensity. Kotto's scenes go a long way in legitimizing the movie beyond simple exploitation. And while he handles most of his scenes with a degree of passion that's not entirely present anywhere else, it's difficult not to get the impression that Kotto's efforts were largely for naught. Blaise is, for the most part, like Drum himself: little more than a plot device. There's not much of a decisive arc in either man's story (or anyone else in the film, for that matter), which makes most of what happens to Drum and Blaise – mostly at the hands of DeMarigny and Hammond – just that: a series of things that happen.
Yes, it's an exploitation movie through and through, and there is plenty sex and violence to keep the audience's attention for all 98 minutes of its runtime, but even the most plot averse viewer is going to find the naked bodies and bloodshed tiresome before too long. This distinct lack of a compelling narrative or character arcs is worsened by Norton’s somewhat wooden performance. Although his physicality is undeniably perfect for the role, the absence of emotional resonance makes the protagonist a difficult one to connect with. Sure, Norton's broad shoulders are visually capable of carrying the load of the film, but there's precious little about Drum that would make the audience want him to bear that burden alone.
Despite the substantial presence of Oates, Colicos, and especially Kotto, Carver seems intent on shinning the spotlight on Norton as much as he possibly can, to the detriment of the film. Plot threads involving the true identity of his mother; his brief love affair with a fellow slave; his falling out with Blaise, all have distinct starting points that are never resolved. And the lack of resolution for any of these threads – no matter how inconsequential they may seem – gives the film an aimlessness that fails to justify its exploitative nature by not offering much in the way of narrative or artistic content to contrast or even add fire to its most prominent element.
Instead, even with its explosive ending, ‘Drum’ comes off more of a pastiche of its predecessor, than a captivating follow up to a controversial film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Drum’ comes from Scorpion Releasing as a single 25GB Blu-ray disc in the standard keepcase. There are no previews ahead of the top menu – which is very basic – you are free to either view the film or turn on the optional director’s commentary.
‘Drum’ has been given a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer that offers some additional detail and depth, while also punching up the color, but is by no means exceptional. Fine detail is strongest in close-ups, offering up some fine facial features and clothing textures. Wider shots see that detail diminished considerably, as fine detail softens or is removed completely. Textures and background elements also tend to look softer in wider shots.
Contrast is high for the most part, offering strong edges and full-bodied shadows or complete darkness. There are a few instances where the darkness could have been inkier, but for the most part it is solid throughout. White levels are also strong, offering an image that doesn’t run too hot, or looks blown out. Similarly, colors are bright and vibrant, making the lush greenery of the setting pop during well-lit scenes, while also making things like blood and fire stand out remarkably well.
Overall, this is an above average image that, despite its shortcomings in terms of consistent clarity and contrast, still feels like a considerable upgrade.
‘Drum’ has been given DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers the film’s musical score more strongly than it does the dialogue. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the score carries far more emotional weight and often livens up the film to a surprising degree. The music is clear and distinct with superb depth and nice bass on occasion.
Unfortunately, the music is not always balanced against the dialogue that gives way to the actors when necessary. During fight sequences or during the climactic battle at the end, voices have a tendency to come across as softer than they should be. Other voices are shrill or tinny at times, which also has a negative impact on the overall quality of the sound.
Ambient noises aren’t too prevalent, but certain sequences do offer greater depth than others. The audio doesn’t ever become wholly immersive, though party sequences and, again, the conflict that brings the film to its close adds some atmosphere that livens up the sound and provides the kind of spectacle the film promised to deliver.
Audio Commentary with Director Steve Carver – Carver gives a great deal of anecdotal information, especially as it pertains to Norton's relationship with the other members of the cast. He has nothing but great things to say about Oates, Colicos, and Kotto, but he rarely ventures into a discussion about the nature of the film itself. Much of what he talks about relates to his inheriting the picture from Burt Kennedy, who parted ways with the film after he and producer Dino de Laurentiis couldn't see eye-to-eye on how it should be depicted.
Original Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3 min.)
'Drum' certainly fulfills the exploitation quotient of its genre, but it lacks the kind of narrative or artistry that would have made it something more than a mere B-movie. Although it boasts interesting performances from many of the actors involved, the screenplay doesn't have much for any of them to do – which makes the wasted potential of Pam Grier even more irksome. It's clear how this film and it predecessor influenced Quentin Tarantino on 'Django Unchained,' and for those who are interested in that sort of thing, this might hold some value. Otherwise, with its above average image and sound, and director's commentary, this one is worth a look.