Is Wrinkles the Clown real? Documentary explores creepy Florida clown

The real-life creepy clown sightings phenomenon is back in a new movie. We talked to the director.
An image from the poster for Magnolia Pictures' documentary "Wrinkles the Clown." The film is set for an Oct. 4 release. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
An image from the poster for Magnolia Pictures' documentary "Wrinkles the Clown." The film is set for an Oct. 4 release. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Published September 16
Updated September 17

Perhaps you’ve seen the grainy security video of the clown with barren, black eye sockets slipping out from beneath a sleeping child’s bed before the camera goes dark.

Or you caught the Washington Post story headlined This creepy 65-year-old clown will terrify your misbehaving kids for cash, or the Naples Daily Newsfollowup, after Wrinkles got a mention on The Tonight Show, questioning whether it was all some kind of viral marketing stunt.

Maybe you’ve only seen the trailer for the new documentary movie Wrinkles the Clown, which hit YouTube last week and quickly spread far and wide among horror fans. Regardless of which way you encountered Wrinkles, you were likely left with an essential question: Is Wrinkles real?

“Yes,” is as much as filmmaker Michael Beach Nichols would say when asked the question, but the documentary he directed provides an eloquent and attractive 75-minute answer, layering all the unsettling murder-clown imagery you’re looking for this Halloween season atop a fascinating study of human fear, childhood in the internet age, modern folklore and imagination.

No matter how closely viewers followed the story of Wrinkles, who went viral in 2015 before a man claiming to be an anonymous Naples retiree took credit, Nichols’ documentary will provide new and never-before-revealed information.

Nichols grew up in Fort Myers and said the film, which was shot around southwest Florida, was personal for him. A Google map from 2015 charting Wrinkles sightings showed points stretching down the state’s western coast from Sarasota to Naples.

Nichols set out to make the film knowing only as much as everyone else. He had only seen the cryptic YouTube videos and a local TV news segment from Halloween.

His major discovery at the outset was a trove of hundreds of thousands of voicemails left for Wrinkles at a phone number advertised on stickers featuring Wrinkles’ face, which had been plastered in public spots around Naples, and later, posted online.

The film uses those voicemails, from children and adults, ranging from amused to terrified to enraged, to “really engage with people’s perceptions of and reactions to Wrinkles,” Nichols said, adding an intriguing layer to what could have become just a character study. Nichols also explores the ethics of parents taking advantage of Wrinkles’ “behavioral services.”

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The film comes about three years after a nationwide spate of creepy clown sightings, fueled by grainy social media photos, TV news and police reports that sparked real investigations, including in Tampa Bay. The film makes a case for Wrinkles as the genesis of it all.

The documentary’s Oct. 4 release in theaters and via video on demand services is only a few weeks after the release of It Chapter Two, featuring the demonic clown Pennywise, and on the same day as the wide release of Joker, in which Joaquin Phoenix plays DC Comics’ “clown prince of crime.”

“I think that a big part of the primal fear of clowns comes from their traditional access to our children,” Nichols said. “Here’s a stranger, usually a man, wearing brightly colored face paint to conceal his identity. ... We don’t truly know who this person is or what his motivations are. ... In terms of Hollywood, I feel like there’s something incredibly intriguing and rich about the light/dark duality that exists or that might exist in every clown.”

Wrinkles’ phone number, (407) 734-0254, which is shown in the film, still rings. Voicemails left by the Tampa Bay Times were not returned.

“It’s still active,” Nichols said. “And Wrinkles still listens to as many voicemails as he can get through, but it’s overwhelming.”

IF YOU GO

The closest, currently-announced theatrical screening of Wrinkles the Clown will take place at the Prado Stadium theater in Bonita Springs on Oct. 4. Ticket info and additional theaters will be listed at wrinklestheclown.com.

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