Mandingo is one of the most con­tro­ver­sial cult films of the 1970’s but it has a small cult of defend­ers will­ing to make a case for its artis­tic val­ue.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a sim­i­lar group will­ing to defend its sequel, Drum.  It shares the note­wor­thy cast and lav­ish pro­duc­tion val­ues of its pre­de­ces­sor but that is where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end.  This is trash for trash’s sake — and an unusu­al­ly chaotic ver­sion of the form, to boot.

The open­ing sec­tion takes place at a New Orleans broth­el, and plays like a recy­cled high­lights reel from Mandingo, com­plete with an extend­ed bare-knuck­le fight that repeats one of its predecessor’s stand­out sequences.  Ken Norton plays the title char­ac­ter, a slave who doesn’t know the madam (Isela Vega) he works for is his moth­er or that he is descend­ed from African roy­al­ty.  It also intro­duces an absurd­ly campy vil­lain in DeMarigny (John Colicos), per­haps the ulti­mate exam­ple of the “preda­to­ry homo­sex­u­al” stereo­type.  Drum bare­ly escapes his clutch­es before being sold by his boss/mother.

The film then shifts to Falconhurst for a mid­sec­tion that plays like a twist­ed bed­room farce spiced up with good ol’ boy humor.  Hammond Maxwell, now played by Warren Oates, has tak­en the place over and is Drum’s new mas­ter.  He and his daugh­ter Sophie (exploita­tion star­let Rainbeaux Smith) try to bet­ter them­selves with the help of Augusta (Fiona Lewis), a psue­do-gov­erness who wants to become Mrs. Maxwell.

Augusta has to cope with the fact that Hammond is still addict­ed to his “bed wench­es,” name­ly the love­ly Regine (a wast­ed Pam Grier) , while Sophie just can’t stop try­ing to bed the male slaves. Meanwhile, Drum strug­gles through a friend­ship with rebel­lious slave Blaise (Yaphet Kotto), who become rad­i­cal­ized by his expe­ri­ences there.  All the play­ers are reunit­ed for the finale, where a soci­ety ball at Falconhurst is inter­rupt­ed by a bru­tal slave rebel­lion.

Thus, Drum obvi­ous­ly has plen­ty to work with but it’s a dis­as­ter.  The nov­el it adapts had a com­plex plot with a large ensem­ble of char­ac­ters and events that spanned sev­er­al decades.  The fin­ished script, penned by Norman Wexler and an uncred­it­ed Richard Sale, plays like a dement­ed Cliff’s Notes take on the mate­ri­al, tak­ing a head­long plunge through a chaot­i­cal­ly-abridged plot while pil­ing on the sex and vio­lence.  It also shoe­horns in a bunch of absurd, smut­ty humor (sam­ple comic dia­logue: “You knows I like big tit­ties”).  Along with the gay-bash­ing con­ceit of its vil­lain, the low com­e­dy short-cir­cuits Drum’s attempts at an anti-slav­ery mes­sage.

The per­for­mances are all over the map. Oates seems to know he is in a stinker and plays his role for broad com­e­dy (he and Smith actu­al­ly make a fun­ny team in a Hee Haw-sort of way).  Norton is asked to car­ry more dra­mat­ic weight and reveals he just doesn’t have the chops to do it.  Yaphet Kotto fumes in a prop­er method-actor style but his work is wast­ed here.  Towering over all the oth­er actors is Colicos, whose steals the show with his out­ra­geous­ly ham­my per­for­mance.  Some actors chew on the scenery but Colicos devours it like a rabid Pac-Man.

The last nail in the coffin is Steve Carver’s hap­haz­ard direc­tion.  In fair­ness to Carver, he was pulled in at the last min­ute to replace to Burt Kennedy.  However, this doesn’t excuse his errat­ic sense of tone, his inabil­i­ty to reign in his over-act­ing cast mem­bers and his dull, non-kinet­ic approach to mise en scene.  Carver does well when there is action to con­cen­trate on (his best work is the cli­mac­tic slave revolt) but the occa­sion­al flash of ener­gy doesn’t dis­guise the lack of inspi­ra­tion behind the cam­era.

In short, Drum is the pure exploita­tion flick that Mandingo is often accused of being — yet it is nowhere near as dis­grace­ful­ly amus­ing as that descrip­tion sug­gests.  Any movie this over­stuffed with sleaze should be much more excit­ing and enter­tain­ing.  Drum just kind of flops around the screen until the cred­its roll.  Even Dino De Laurentiis didn’t want his name on the fin­ished pro­duct.  Coming from the guy that pro­duced Lipstick and Amityville II: The Possession, that says a lot.