Illinois-based filmmaker Rusty Nails, the writer, producer, director, editor and star of ACNE, began it as a student project at Columbia University. The film, shot on black and white 16mm film in and around the filmmaker’s Chicago hometown, ended up taking several years to reach its 2002 fruition. It’s been met with mostly enthusiastic reception on the festival circuit, earning raves from the likes of John Waters and George Romero—it seems appropriate, then, that Rusty Nails has since gone on to make the documentary DEAD ON: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF GEORGE ROMERO.
Franny and Zoe are two teenagers who wake up one morning to find giant zits on their heads that promptly explode, leaving ugly crown-like scar tissue where hair once grew. Thus afflicted, they froth at the mouth, spurt pus from their heads and lose all appetite except in their giant acne scars, which they smear with cream cheese and other greasy substances, as they’re what the tissue craves. It seems a contagion has gotten into the town’s water supply and is doing to teenagers throughout the area—only teenagers, not children or adults—what it did to Franny and Zoe. The contagion is also apparently rampant in the nearby Mershey’s chocolate factory, which continues to sell its product even after it learns of the mutations.
Authorities promptly ban the sale of Mershey’s chocolate to minors, which inspires underground chocolate salesmen to peddle the stuff to unsuspecting teens. Franny and Zoe get together with a bunch of their “zithead” friends and decide to storm the Mershey’s chocolate factory, thus putting it out of business for good. But the authorities get wind of their intentions and send helicopters to intercept the zitheads on their way to the factory, unleashing nerve gas that stuns them all…but also, in at least two cases, causes the zit scar tissue to melt away.
If you’ve seen many no-budget horror flicks then you won’t be surprised by the ultra-grainy black and white film stock, jerky camerawork, play doh-ey prosthetic effects and muffled sound. All are elements of ACNE, which conversely has in its favor a quality impossible to buy or rent, no matter how substantial a budget one has: genuine inspiration. Sure, the pacing is erratic and the narrative uneven, but the premise is inspired, and undergoes a number of imaginative twists. Yes, the humor is often unnecessarily dopey (a romance between a military man in denial about the fact that he’s losing his hair and a co-worker is plain asinine), but there’s a political dimension to it that grows increasingly pressing. For all its goofiness, this film has some decidedly prescient things to say about the exploitation of teenagers in our society. In the end, though, it works for one simple reason: its fun.
New Eye Films
Director/Producer/Screenwriter/Editor: Rusty Nails
Cinematography: Richard Menzia, David M. Russell
Cast: Rusty Nails, Tracey Hayes, Jim Darley, Timothy Hutchings, Mary Luckritz, Randall Stanton, Matthew Falkowski, Meg Arader, Michael Zoll, Reina Sosa