The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol (2011)

Description (from the Facebook page):
The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol follows the disappointing life of struggling actor Tommy P, who has turned his back on family and friends to pursue his dream of stardom and when he finally hits rock bottom, Tommy seeks solace in a penis pump and discovers that even in his dreams, he still fails miserably. What he doesn’t realize is that his whole life has been leading up to the moment when he awakes to find that he’s run out of second chances, and despite his regret, there is no going back.

Major Cast:
Aramis Sartorio as Tommy Pistol, Caleb Emerson as Snuff Boss, Vincent Cusimano as The Camera Man, Mia Tyler as Cheese Grater Face, Camilla Lim as Lynn, Daisy Sparks as Daisy, John Karyus as Skanky

Special Features:
None (Screener)

Written by Aramis and Karen Sartorio
Directed by Aramis Sartorio

I went into THE GRUESOME DEATH OF TOMMY PISTOL expecting an ultra-gory horror film, everything I had heard or seen about the film made me believe that’s what I was about to watch.  The poster is of hands holding a bloody cheese grater, the short film that makes up the 3rd act – ATTACK OF THE STAPH SPIDER – won “Most Disgusting Movie” at the 2009 Backseat Film Festival, on IMDB the film is listed as “Horror,” and… well… it’s called THE GRUESOME DEATH OF TOMMY PISTOL!  So, silly me, I thought I was sitting down to watch a horror film.  I was wrong.

TGDoTP has some horrific stories, some gory effects, some unsettling situations, but it is more of a dark sketch comedy film with tongue super-glued in cheek than it is a horror film.  Yes, there is a lot of blood, and yes, there is some (literal) torture-porn, there is even a skinning and later, zombies.  But don’t be fooled: the entire time the film is asserting “I’m a horror movie,” Aramis is in the background, winking and smiling with his fingers crossed behind his back.  TGDoTP was what I would expect to see if Troma hired John Waters to make a horror flick set in the world of filmmaking.

The film opens with Tommy Pistol, aspiring actor and all around loser, both getting fired (aka “taking a half-day”) from his latest in an apparent string of menial jobs and missing his chance to make a measly fifty bucks by showing up late to a casting call for extras.  Tired of his tendency to put his “acting career” before his wife and young child, Tommy’s family walks out on him.  Time passes, and obviously nothing has changed other than the number of soiled tissues on the living-room floor.  We find Tommy, penis-pump in hand, getting ready for this evening’s activity: dinner (a hot dog in the microwave) and a skin flick (hence, the soiled tissues).  Tommy passes out whilst pumping, and the first act begins.

The film itself is told through three dreams, all related around Tommy’s desire to be a real “actor.”  The first act is young Tommy stepping off the train from New York to the hallowed ground of Hollywood, ready for his first acting gig.  Tommy – fresh-faced, innocent, and naive to the core – is here for a job he found on fuckedbydeath.com for what he still somehow assumes is a real acting gig, even though it appears it was explicitly explained to him he would be participating in a snuff film (“the effects are so real!”).  The second act has Tommy sneaking his way onto the crew of an Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster-to-be, and in the process killing a few more people… and eventually wearing Arnold’s skin while beating up the rest of the crew.  Act three has Tommy, decked out like a young Ron Jeremy, directing a porn flick where the lead actress has been infected by the bite of the Staph Spider… consummate grossness ensues (hence the aforementioned Backstreet Film Festival award).

TGDoTP, as I mentioned before, feels like sketch comedy; or more accurately, TGDoTP feels like three semi-related short films with a plot device built in to hold them together.  Each of the stories revolve around Tommy, aspiring actor, and his exploits in the world of makin’ movies, but other than that there is not much to make the disparate stories relate to each other.  With the use of the plot device of “it’s all a dream” this difference is ok; we are reminded between the stories that Tommy is really passed out on his couch, pumping away, while his hot dog takes a twenty-minute spin in the microwave.  Not only is the hot dog used as a device to foreshadow the eventual conclusion, but also in the end, this dark, twisted, repulsive comedy has a moral, which (again) I never would have expected to find.

Once I got past the fact that TGDoTP is not a horror film and not to be taken seriously, I really enjoyed a lot of things about this flick: the acting, the directing, the effects, and the dark humor were all solid.

In general, the acting quality is strong – TGDoTP does not suffer from the “your friends and family as cast” setback that many low-budget films have to deal with.  Even though many of the people in this film are likely Aramis’ friends and family, they are also talented actors.  Aramis play on Tommy goes off in different directions, but they all still are obviously iterations of the same character with some variables affecting the outcome.  I am only familiar with Aramis from Caleb Emerson’s FRANKIE IN BLUNDERLAND, a film in which he plays another loser, but Frankie is cut from very different cloth than Tommy.  I thought his performance in FiB was stronger overall, but I also am a firm believer that it is easier for an actor to give a good performance when said actor is working with a talented director.  This is not to say that Aramis is not a good director, but it is easier to see things that need to be fixed in others than it is in ourselves.  Aramis culled good performances from all of his supporting characters, with a few small exceptions in some of the smaller roles.  Caleb Emerson was especially awesome as the Snuff Boss, providing some of the best laughs of the film, and Camilla Lim was also especially funny.

The direction was also all there; Aramis kept the camera work interesting without being overly frenetic, shots were well composed and well planned out.  The lighting wasn’t as good as it could have been, but it was not horrible either; there were a few scenes that have characters plunged into shadows apparently cast from a single light source, but overall the action on screen was easy to see… there was just nothing “special” about the lighting.  The video quality was decent overall as well; it was readily apparent that the film was shot on digital video (especially in some scenes where the camera moves quickly by textured backgrounds), but it was also obvious from the picture quality that this was no shot-on-a-camcorder type production.  Hopefully before the film is distributed it will go through some sort of a film-look processing, I feel that this will help its appeal to those not so used to dealing with low-budget movies.  In addition, TGDoTP does need a little work on the sound quality (some dialogue was hard to hear or understand, some sound seemingly was recorded with one mic on set and no chance to do second takes on the other people speaking, and some of the music could use some better levels), but it is still overall better than many low budget films, since sound quality is often one of the first things to be sacrificed to the god of “we have no money to spend on making this movie.”

The visual effects of TGDoTP were, well, gruesome… as they should be.  1313 Effects did a fine job in the snuff film scenes, as well as the skinning, and was especially on-point bringing the grossness to the staph spider sequence.  This aspect of the movie, and the way some of the more stomach-churning aspects were played (I’m looking at you here Skanky, and your love of found cream) was what especially resonated the Troma feel.  TGDoTP does go out of its way, on more than one occasion, to be gross; and I’m not talking “eww that’s gross” gross, but more like “Holy mother of disgustingness, that is some repugnant shit” type gross.

The strongest aspect of TGDoTP is the very thing I was unaware I would be seeing when I sat down on my couch to view this film: it’s comedy.  TGDoTP is very much a very dark comedy, and while the film may try to convince you otherwise, it knows what it is.  This is especially evident in the Tommy of act one, and his happy-go-lucky outlook on the world.  There is some really funny stuff in this film (like Tommy’s nervous… um… tick?), in between the disgustingness.  Also, along with the surprise of the comedy found in TGDoTP, was the surprise that after all of this nastiness, there is an ending that, while sad, also has a very positive message.  Did I really write the words “positive message” in this review?  See, TGDoTP is just full of surprises.

Overall I enjoyed the black humor of TGDoTP.  The technical aspects of the film (lighting, sound, etc.) could be a bit stronger, but the emotional aspects of the film are where they need to be.  TGDoTP does not work as a horror movie; while it is certainly gruesome, it is not scary (except maybe to family men that do not spend enough time with said families); but as a dark comedy, TGDoTP shines brightly through the gore-splattered murk with a nod and a wink and sly smile.

Overall 7 / 10

TGDoTP on the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1472590/

TGDoTP is not for sale yet.

TGDoTP sites: http://www.babyyetti.com/ and http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Gruesome-Death-of-Tommy-Pistol/146900325346114

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