The Boston Phoenix
Review from issue: August 12 - 19, 1999

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State of the Art


by Gabrielle Schafer

Acne CHICAGO -- Rusty Nails was on the bus from Boston to New York when the idea for Acne, his first feature film, struck him. "I used to write fake commercials in the hopes of acting in them one day," says the Weymouth native, who now splits his time between Chicago and Boston. "And when I was writing one for blemish cream, I had this vision of a huge zit, and a helicopter landing and popping it."

Not many filmmakers could take that image and turn it into a 74-minute film, and fewer would if they could. But Nails has managed to turn a grotesque and bizarre inspiration into an entertaining, funny, provocative movie. Already an underground favorite in Chicago after its appearance in the Uncut Film Festival last April, Nails' low-budget, black-and-white horror flick -- filmed in both Boston and Chicago -- will get its other home-town debut during the first annual Boston Area Theaters Film Festival at the Coolidge Corner this Friday and Saturday.

Only 17 when inspiration struck, Nails began writing the screenplay for Acne back in 1992. After five years of filming, Acne was completed for $12,000 -- meaning it may well be the cheapest feature ever to come out of the Boston area. The start-up funds came from Rusty's days as a bag boy at Cambridge's Bread and Circus. A desperate Nails then raised the rest of the money by having yard sales, hitting up friends for meager donations, and even showing up on Ricki Lake and The Morton Downey Jr. Show as an allegedly dysfunctional teenager (guests get almost $200 for appearances). More than 300 persons were involved in the filming of Acne, including 90 actors, but the only paid participant was make-up artist Jason Dummeldinger. And after seeing the giant, puss-spewing, volcanic pimples that take over the teenagers' heads, you can understand why Dummeldinger got paid -- the zits play a starring role.

Nails describes Acne as "a tribute to '50s film noir and French New Wave films of the '60s." Although at times the movie seems more like satire than tribute, he stresses his reverence for these genres: "I'm a big fan of older films, directors like Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Orson Welles, and the Marx Brothers." What's more, he's melded his literary sensibilities -- Acne's protagonists are named after Salinger's Franny and Zoe -- with his love for punk rock and film noir. Underlying the film's surreal comedy is a political subtext in which Rusty critiques environmental neglect and government corruption. The soundtrack, which is being released on Philadelphia's Bloodlink Records (, includes songs by the Dead Kennedys, Tilt, Devo, and Nails' own band, the Creeps (who perform the film's title track; they also have a new CD, From Beyond, on Bloodlink). According to Nails, Devo's "Mongoloid" fit the film perfectly: "It has the same twisted, surreal sense of humor."

In keeping with the movie's punk vibe, Nails held six punk-rock benefits in Chicago to raise more money for his projects, which include a second feature currently in production. The tentative title: Cannibal Teenage Riot.

Acne screens this weekend, August 13 and 14, at midnight at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard Street in Brookline; call 734-2500. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Cambridge Rape Crisis Center.

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