Unlike a good many other “adults” I know, I’ve never felt a particular aversion to clowns. “President Jeb”. Pro-lifers. Muslim extremists. These things scare me. In fact, they near paralyze me with their mind-blowing dreadfulness. But as for Bozo or Krusty? Barely a blip on my fear-ometer. Okay, so Stephen King’s Pennywise was a rather frightening proposition. But that was what, 25 years ago?!? Any residual clown-inspired nastiness has long since been forgotten. That said, I must admit that Philadelphia indie staple Rodney Gray makes for one hell of a creepy clown in the twisted coming-of-age short “Willy Will”. The image of this rather large man in full circus makeup and garb bellowing “Hey Willy Willy” to a hapless young man standing naked in a shower is enough to send this jaded critic running for mommy. Or at least onto www.ihateclowns.com. Yes, such a thing actually exists and now I know why!
As frightening as Tango the Clown might be, he or “it” is just one of three imaginary nasties tormenting poor William (Michael Berkowitz), a twenty-something with developmental issues. For starters, there’s Jethro (Charley Devany), a psychotic cowboy with an itchy trigger finger. Then, as if the first two weren’t bad enough, there’s the far more troubling Fear (Jay Lawrence), a creature so terrifying that his own face seems to have exploded outward in horror. From early on in “Willy Will” it’s clear that William’s uneasy truce with this unholy triumvirate has come to a grinding halt. You see, years of pampering and emotional suffocation by his mother have reduced William to a miserable little boy who can’t sleep without his treasured teddy. And Tango, Jethro, and Fear have had enough: either William clears his head within two days or else. Unfortunately for William, this ultimatum couldn’t come at a worse time, as that very night he is kicked out of the house by his mother. Forced to finally live on his own in an apartment owned by his loony Uncle Jerry (Jerry Perna), William must confront his demons and maybe even grow up a little in the process. At least when he meets his equally shy, though cute-in-her-own-way, neighbor Maria (Amanda Schoonover), William realizes that he’s clearly not the only freak in this apartment building, if not the world.
Written and directed in deliriously over-the-top fashion by Anthony Glinski, “Willy Will” is both amusing and genuinely creepy. What is in the end simply an underdeveloped (at only 25 minutes what else could it be?) coming-of-age love story becomes an engaging, vaguely surrealistic freakshow in Glinski’s hands. Particularly impressive is the filmmaker’s command over the medium in creating trippy, claustrophobic spaces that are at once inside and outside of William’s head. Glinski is greatly aided here by the assured cinematography of Daniel Watchulonis and the brilliantly tacky sound mix of John Gallagher. In front of the camera, Michael Berkowitz and Amanda Schoonover turn in adequately gawky performances as two young adults trying to ditch their imaginary “friends” by finding their groove, while Jerry Perna is instantly classic as Mr. Furley on crack. But as much twisted fun as all this is, it is Rodney Gray as Tango the Clown who really bogarts the show here. Sure, I realize that “Willy Will” is a no-frills, no-budget affair, but I’ll be damned if Tango isn’t the archetypical Clown from Hell. If you thought “Psycho” was bad for showers, you have no idea.