DOCUMENTARY; 1hr 18min
DIRECTED BY: Michael Beach Nichols
In the Southwest Florida of 2015, Wrinkles the Clown is a booming business. “Everybody and their fuckin’ grandmother has my phone number,” the man of the viral moment rasps in his home van while relaxing, mask-free but face unseen. Not that it’s so easy to chill. With his mandate of “Behavioural Services”, aka the nocturnal terrifying of disobedient children at the behest of their presumably delinquent parents, Wrinkles is red-hot property.
Bolstered by an ad campaign of macabre YouTube videos, random sightings and stickers with his face and phone number, the polka dot–suited, geriatric clown has metamorphosed into a one-man pandemic. His voicemail is inundated with hundreds of messages each day, many of them abusive, many from children and all topping out at a million-plus. Professionals might tut-tut from their ivory towers, but for regular punters, the suburban bogeyman is up there with the folkloric likes of Slender Man, Bloody Mary, Charlie Charlie et al. Dialling his number in gleeful fascination is a massive kiddie YouTube Thing, for while the dichotomy of the goofy-creepy clown persona is nothing new—as The Joker, Pennywise, the Poltergeist Clown Doll and their cadre of pancaked buddies down the decades would be the first to agree—this psycho geezer is irresistibly accessible.
To hear the 65-year-old performer tell it, he’s something of an entrepreneur: unable to find work as a regular clown, he amped up his “edge” with a ghastly eBay mask and a sinister agenda. Et voilà! Demon seed. Yet for all the lurid bravado, Wrinkles unmasked comes off as a directionless loner, eking out a faded existence while fielding that demoralising avalanche of calls.
But who is everyone calling, really? In the end, the most acute angle of director Michael Beach Nichols’s slyly revealing slice of life is that it doesn’t matter a damn who Wrinkles is or isn’t, or what he has or hasn’t been up to. The shoddy clown is nothing but a funhouse mirror, empowered by the minds of his beholders as a distorted reinforcement of their innermost fears.