The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol
by Jason Coffman
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I feel compelled to explain up front that I did not watch all of The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol. I made it through a little over 70 minutes of its 93-minute running time before I could not watch any more. I’ve been writing reviews for Film Monthly for four years now, and this is the first film I’ve received for review that I literally could not sit through. If you believe that automatically invalidates anything I might have to say about the film— and really, I don’t necessarily disagree, hence this caveat— feel free to click away and read something more worthy of your time. But if you take away nothing else from this introduction, let it be this: The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol is very possibly the worst, most infuriating and disgusting narrative film I have ever seen, and I seriously doubt anything in its last 20 minutes would change my mind about that. This is not going to be a review so much as an explanation of what made me stop watching the movie. Consider yourself warned.
Even explaining what The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol is about is exhausting and disheartening. Written and directed by porn actor Tommy Pistol (under the name Aramis Sartorio), who also stars in the film as a character named “Tommy Pistol,” Gruesome Death takes the form of an anthology of short stories that place another “imaginary” Tommy in different situations. These stories play out while the Tommy in the “real” world is overpumping a penis pump— the “gruesome death” referred to in the film’s title is when his penis finally explodes at the end of the film, after all three of these stories have played out. Have I mentioned this is a comedy yet?
“Tommy Pistol” (played by Tommy Pistol) is a failed actor who can’t get to auditions on time or hold down a job because he’s a horrible asshole to everybody. After his last firing, he returns home to his angered wife (Gia Paloma, Pistol’s real-life spouse), who takes their kid (again, their real-life kid) and leaves. The action then jumps forward a year for some reason, with Tommy still somehow living in the same really nice house despite presumably not having a job. He settles in for a night of eating microwave hot dogs and masturbating; he apparently uses the penis pump for the same amount of time that his hot dog is in the microwave, and on this fateful night he accidentally puts the hot dog in for 20 minutes. Cue the hilarity.
In the first story, “Tommy Pistol” is a complete idiot, fresh off the train to Los Angeles who has answered an ad on a snuff film site to star in a snuff film of his own in which he will murder women. Tommy is so stupid that he does not understand this is not an acting job, and that he will actually be murdering people. Once on the set, he kills one woman with a cheese grater and uses a Slap Chop on another’s breast before pulling her heart out. Before any of this happens, though, we get extended monologues of Tommy talking directly to the camera about how he’s going to be a big star and prove wrong all those people who made fun of him and his dreams. One of his intended victims escapes and kills all the other behind-the-scenes guys on the snuff film set, but Tommy inexplicably outsmarts her and builds a slip ‘n slide that runs on her blood— this isn’t entirely clear because of the film’s incredibly ugly digital video, so we hear her voiceover screaming “Tommy, you idiot! That’s my blood!”
If any of this sounds remotely amusing, you should probably just stop reading and go buy this movie immediately. However, the tone of the film is just cruel, and all of the humor comes from a place of disgust and hatred. I didn’t even mention the “Pakistani” hotel owner played by an actor in blackface, but he’s there in this first section, too. What do we learn from this first dream sequence? I guess we learned that you have to do horrible things to be in the porn industry, and maybe Tommy Pistol feels guilty about it, so this is his way of working that out instead of going to therapy and saving the rest of us 93 minutes.
In the second story, “Tommy” appears to be himself, but he doesn’t show up until after two security guards have what looks like an entirely improvised argument over their lunch that goes on for what feels like about ten minutes. We become painfully aware that the editing is at the same level of technical competence as everything else in the film. “Tommy” sneaks onto the set of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, has a scene in a kitchen shot with a completely different camera than the rest of the film, then kills Arnold and wears his skin in the hopes of taking over his career. Instead, everyone instantly realizes what has happened and panics, so Tommy starts killing everybody. An Asian production assistant named Lynn (Camilla Lim) is confronted by her spirit animal— a dog who has to take “a massive shit”— and returns to the set to fight Tommy with her martial arts abilities. Also, half of her lines are subtitled.
So to keep score, non-whites in this film have been presented as: a Pakistani hotel owner played by an actor in blackface, the lady who had her breast Slap Chopped off and her heart ripped out, and an Asian woman who knows martial arts and has half of her lines subtitled. If there are any other non-white characters in the last section of the film, I did not see them, but I doubt they fare any better than those in the first two. Tommy, meanwhile, seems to be working out his disappointment that he couldn’t make it in Hollywood, where people treat each other really badly. Now we’ve learned two things from Gruesome Death: First, being in the porno industry requires you to do horrible things, and second, it’s really hard to make it in Hollywood.
Something else we learn as a sort of side effect is that Tommy Pistol doesn’t give a damn about how his film looks. First is the kitchen scene, obviously shot with a completely different camera than the rest of the film, and second is the fact that there are recurring severe interlacing artifacts in the image when there’s a lot of action on the screen. This is especially bad during the “martial arts” shots. Interlacing happens when shooting with digital video, and I’ve seen it in a few independent films before, but I’ve never seen it in an actual commercially-released DVD. It’s one more technical distraction that could have been fixed if anyone involved in the production had taken a few minutes to Google the issue and figured out what was going on (here is an explanation of how it works and how to deal with it posted in 2003), but again I seriously doubt anybody cared at all how the film looked, so it’s still in there.
The final section of the film casts Tommy as a porno director. His starlet (Daisy Sparks) is having a conversation with him about how she likes doing double anal with black guys because she gets paid more and that she doesn’t like using her vagina, and how she wishes she’d “been raped up the ass when I lost my virginity.” Shortly after this, she is bitten by a radioactive spider, and the disgusting spiderbite explodes in pus in Tommy’s face. This is where the film’s misogynist “humor” and gross-out shock tactics proved too depressing for me to deal with any further, and I stopped the movie.
After cooling off for about ten minutes, I watched the rest of this short on fast-forward, and it appears to turn into a sort of zombie movie on a porn set, where the spider pus infects everyone and there’s slimy junk everywhere and some guy licks pus off a toilet bowl where Daisy Sparks left it behind and seriously, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. When we return to “real world” Tommy, his penis explodes and then there’s a sad coda where home videos of Tommy and his son play while a voiceover says “I’m sorry I couldn’t see you,” and a touching dedication to Tommy’s father appears before the end credits roll.
Wait, what!? We’ve just spent 90 minutes having our faces shoved into what a worthless moron this guy is, how he’s done terrible things and constantly failed and how horrible he is to everybody, and now we’re supposed to feel sad that he’s not going to be able to see his kid any more because he was too stupid to not kill himself with a penis pump? No. Tommy Pistol made damned sure we have absolutely no sympathy for “Tommy Pistol,” and I don’t. I can’t imagine anybody would. The film’s ending is just one more indication that Pistol had no idea what he was doing making this film.
It is exceedingly rare that I have literally nothing positive to say about a film at all, but this is definitely one of those cases. The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol is an ugly, disgusting, aggressively unfunny film. All of its humor comes from a place of hatred and cruelty. From a technical standpoint, it looks terrible and doesn’t sound much better. Trimming about twenty minutes might have helped make it easier to sit through, but otherwise wouldn’t likely improve anything. Its underlying messages are tired and unsurprising, and it offers no fresh insights other than the fact that things may be even worse for humanity than we could have possibly imagined.
Perhaps making this film helped Tommy Pistol deal with some of his issues regarding working in the porn industry and his struggles trying to make it in the mainstream, in which case it at least did him some good. However, he really should have kept it to himself. The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol is a black hole of hopelessness, misery and regret. If you spend any time with it, you will immediately find yourself angry and sad, infected with its staggering negativity, as if the only way that Tommy could feel better was to make a film that makes you feel as bad as he does about himself. Why would anyone elect to spend their time this way?
Breaking Glass Pictures and Vicious Circle Films released The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol on DVD on 27 March 2012. The DVD has a number of extras too depressing to describe.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and is a regular contributor to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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