Humans, especially in America, have a long-standing history of being scared of clowns. Then there are those who quite enjoy the notion of a scary clown. In most cases, clowns are nothing to truly be afraid of, either because real clowns tend to be children's entertainers, or because the scariest ones aren't real. But one very scary clown, Winkles, is so very real, and the new documentary Wrinkles the Clown form director Michael Beach Nichols examines this peculiar figure in what ends up being a surprisingly poignant, and often fun, look at this real-life folk legend.
Wrinkles the Clown, as seen at Fantastic Fest, explores the story of the infamous freaky clown from Naples, Florida who makes a living being hired by parents to terrorize their naughty children. It all started with a video that appeared on the Internet in 2014. The unsettling, blurry CCTV footage shows a young girl sleeping in her bed when the storage drawer under it begins to open. Then the freakiest clown one could imagine, dressed in a red polka dot outfit, with dark gloves and a wrinkly, white, balding mask comes out. He then takes the camera off the wall and shuts it off. With that, the legend was set. Stickers appeared with a phone number for Wrinkles and things simply exploded. Pennywise isn't real, but Wrinkles is and that was all the world needed to blow this thing up into a viral sensation.
The most interesting thing about Wrinkles the Clown, both as a figure and as a movie, is that it plays on the idea of how we create monsters in modern popular culture. This whole thing started with a simple video and a few stickers being posted around a Florida town with a phone number on them. From there, the narrative practically wrote itself. Social media ran away with it. People made Wrinkles into something more than he really was. How could they not? This is the kind of thing the word viral was made for. And thanks to the nature of information being able to spread like wildfire in the modern age, Wrinkles was transformed into a behemoth, mythical figure. Does this clown really get hired to scare children by fed-up parents? Is he an old man that lives in a van? Did he really kill a child?
Director Michael Beach Nichols decides to examine this character, and the answers to our many questions, in a way that best suits the heart of the matter. Does truth matter when something takes on a life of it's own? Once the legend outgrows the reality, how can it ever be reigned back in? The documentary pulls something of a fascinating magic trick on the viewer. It's one of those things where the less said, the better. But you go into Wrinkles the Clown expecting it to be one thing, and it ends up becoming something else entirely. We hear many of the voicemails left on the mythic Wrinkles answering machine. We see the kids who were affected by the very notion of this clown existing. We see the narrative, right or wrong, develop. We come to understand how this all spiraled into a full-blown phenomenon, but in a pretty surprising way.
Thanks to movies like IT, amongst other examples on pop culture, scary clowns are big right now. They exist alongside the Boogeyman, Bloody Mary and other such monsters that serve to terrify and delight youngsters across generations. There is a real Wrinkles, but this documentary proves that the myth of Wrinkles the Clown, aided by the fact that it's very much grounded in something real, has earned its place amongst those other legends, while also serving as a cautionary tale for modern life in the social media age. Wrinkles the Clown arrives on October 4 from Magnet Releasing.