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Fantastic Fest 2019: “Wrinkles the Clown” Film Review

One of the much-anticipated documentaries at this year’s Fantastic Fest, “Wrinkles the Clown” is about just what it sounds like: a clown named Wrinkles. The film takes the approach of talking to the man behind Wrinkles, as well as those who have been frightened by his mere existence. It’s done almost as an oral history of a viral sensation, and it’ll throw you for a loop.

Director Michael Beach Nichols uses his many onscreen subjects to craft a narrative of an unidentifiable man who wears a clown costume and scares children for money. There are clips throughout of urban legends, both old (Bloody Mary) and new (Slenderman). Because let’s be honest: If not for the internet, Wrinkles the Clown would likely never have existed in people’s minds outside of Florida, where he originated.

What began with a local clown using his looks to scare badly behaving children to teach them a lesson quickly spun out into national news stories, jokes on late night television and, eventually, theories about his ulterior motives. People generally think clowns are scary. After John Wayne Gacy’s Pogo the Clown was used to actually lure boys and young men into his home, where he would kill them, it’s no wonder people can’t help but feel creeped out. And yes, pop culture adds to it too (thanks, Pennywise!).

So as the legend of Wrinkles the Clown grew, he got more and more phone calls. A lot of them are from children, who are either doing it just to prove that they could or to threaten him with bodily harm. There’s even one kid who seems to idolize Wrinkles. The filmmakers talk to a handful of children about their experiences around those choices, and it becomes just as much a study of psyche as a documentary about a character.

The documentary takes multiple twists and turns, as Nichols follows the stories of multiple people and their perceived connections to Wrinkles the Clown. So is Wrinkles dangerous? Is he an urban legend? Who is Wrinkles the Clown, and have you seen him?

Wrinkles the Clown | Photo credit: Jackie Ruth

“Wrinkles the Clown” is equal parts creepy, shocking and enthralling. It’s available in theaters and on demand on October 4, and I recommend you check it out for yourself this Halloween season.

The second screening of “Wrinkles the Clown” at Fantastic Fest takes place Monday, September 23, at 11 p.m.

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