As a kid (and even today), I loved the “late night monster/horror show”. My mainstays were either Elvira’s Movie Macabre or Mystery Science Theater 3000, showcasing B-movie monster cheesiness with a healthy side dose of snarky commentary from the hosts.
While there are a handful of these shows left, the concept isn’t as frequent as it used to be. Fortunately, IDW Comics’ Aleister Arcane by Steve Niles sets up the premise of the horror host, and turns the tale into the very story that it would have featured.
Aleister Green is a small town weatherman who loves playing horror host “Aleister Arcane” for his station’s Halloween horror film marathon. For him, it’s all fun and games and easy scares. For some “concerned citizens”, his antics border on blasphemous behavior. When one kid seems to emulate one of his horror tricks to disastrous results, Aleister is not only blamed, but his career and life are ruined, including causing the death of his wife due to the stress of said witch hunt.
Aleister goes into seclusion, broken, bitter, and one day swearing vengeance against those that have destroyed his life. However, his world is changed by a group of trick or treating kids. The kids aren’t afraid of him, and love his horror collection and stories. One of the kids, Lauren, takes a special affinity to him, and their friendship grows.
However, Aleister has grown old and sick over the years, and while his heart has lightened, his health fails, becoming unable to stop the macabre scheme that he had originally planned for the adults of the town….
Aleister Arcane is a tragic tale of someone who loved fantasy and role play that was destroyed by people who failed to understand that his intentions were all playful make believe. It wasn’t enough to make Aleister stop doing something the townspeople didn’t like, they had to completely ruin his life as well. The parallels to real world events both past and present are not lost, though Aleister’s reserve plan turns out to be so horrific that even he regrets what he has done.
It’s up to Lauren and her friends to fight through the horribly mutated evil that has spread throughout their town, and find a way to reverse Aleister’s curse while reaching the small spark of humanity left within him. No small feat, given his current condition:
Steve Niles writes a believable story of kids hanging out with an eccentric old man that heal his broken spirit. It’s this bond that provides the strength to reach the conclusion of this gruesome tale, and even when they “win”, the ending is bittersweet for so many reasons.
Breehn Burns brings a painted style to his illustrations, and they well reflect the horror of the children’s battle and transformation of the town. The lighter moments, however, and filled with emotional friendly faces, and images of humanity of a man so lost. Burns does an excellent job in illustrating the friendship between Lauren and Aleister, making it believable, and an anchoring point of redemption.
Aleister Arcane is a great story for both horror fans as well as those who loved those old “midnight movies” with silly skits and bad puns. The tale goes back to a simpler time, but also highlights the dangers of people who are unable to take a joke.
There’s said to be a movie in production from Eli Roth with Jim Carrey playing the role of Aleister. It could make for an interesting horror tale, and Carrey could pull off Aleister’s theatrical bravado well. Hopefully, it would do the source material proper justice, mixing, horror and heart.
In the meantime, Aleister Arcane is an excellent read for any time of the year.