With the massive popularity of IT (2017) and IT Chapter Two (2019), it’s hard to remember that just a few years ago, an unprecedented epidemic of clown scares swept the USA. It’s this phenomenon that the documentary Wrinkles the Clown (2019) attempts to explore, through the lens of one clown that went viral and sparked the madness.
All across the country around 2014, parents entered into a frenzied panic for their children’s safety due to an alarming uptick in sightings of potentially armed and dangerous creepy clowns lurking around small towns, threatening residents. This trend can be linked back to one specific viral video: “Wrinkles the Clown Caught on CCTV” uploaded to YouTube on November 8, 2014 by an account called “HvUSeenWrinkles”. In this grainy, black and white security camera type footage we see a young girl peacefully sleeping in her bed when the drawer underneath slowly starts to open, revealing a terrifying clown crawling out. Once outside, he pauses, staring at her, then picks up a stuffed animal and places it next to her sleeping body. He then appears to notice the camera, walks up to it (highlighting the creepy blank black eyes on the mask) and then he puts his hand to the camera cutting off video. It’s a scene straight out of a horror film, but sold as reality.
“[…] a few years ago, an unprecedented epidemic of clown scares swept the USA.”
Wrinkles the Clown (2019) dives into that video and many more which helped perpetuate the urban legend that Wrinkles became. To this day, nobody really knows who the man behind the clown mask really is; the documentary employs a fake out of sorts wherein the first approximately 45 minutes they interview and feature shots of an old man when talking about Wrinkles. They show the man with the costume, answering the infamous cell phone (Wrinkles’ cell phone number has been posted all over and is widely known for his ominous voicemail answering machine), and otherwise giving mock interviews about what it’s like the be the viral clown. It’s assumed, if not blatantly obvious that this man is the real Wrinkles. Spoiler alert: he’s not. It’s revealed late into the documentary that he’s an actor hired to portray Wrinkles. The viewer is now introduced to the real Wrinkles, though much less intimately. The actual Wrinkles is shown the same way we interview crime witnesses in a Lifetime movie: obscured, back lit, and voice disguised.
The most interesting moments of the documentary are the conversations between the filmmakers and the actual Wrinkles. These conversations reveal that that grainy CCTV “security cam” footage that propelled him to internet infamy and several of the other videos posted to the “HvUSeenWrinkles” channel were all created and doctored by Wrinkles and friends to perpetuate the fear once they realized the power of what they had created by putting the idea of Wrinkles into the world. None of it is real – even down to the clown seen in that original video. The real Wrinkles couldn’t fit in the small space beneath that child’s bed, so a friend donned the costume and Wrinkles was behind the camera (which was made to look like security camera footage using video editing software).
The man behind Wrinkles (whose identity is never revealed, to maintain the mystique) makes a fascinating point about the nature of fear as a behavior modification tactic, another big theme of the documentary which spends a large amount of time (needlessly, in my opinion) interviewing children who encountered Wrinkles online, spoke to him on the phone, or were inspired by him to put on a clown mask themselves and create spooky videos. He sees what he does as no different than taking young children to church and teaching them that they’ll burn in hell for telling a lie or otherwise sinning; only instead of a fire and brimstone sermon, he created a boogeyman persona for parents to use to scare their children. This is probably the most poignant moment of the film because it finally gets to the depths of what Wrinkles is known for: scaring children.
Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the documentary goes in terms of delving into why Wrinkles does what he does. When we’ve already spent more than half the documentary hearing from who we believed to be Wrinkles, to find out it was simply an actor, invalidates all of that footage. Then the documentary leaves us with only a momentary glimpse into the mind of the real Wrinkles. Overall, the documentary spends way too much time talking to children about Wrinkles, collecting interviews that add nothing to the story except showing what could’ve been shown in maybe ten minutes of footage with children: how he captured the minds and fear of a generation.
“[…] instead of a fire and brimstone sermon, he created a boogeyman persona for parents to use to scare their children.”
Wrinkles The Clown is in theatres now! Let us know what you thought of the documentary or tell us about the scariest clown you’ve ever seen over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!