BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL
Director: Chris Baugh
Writers: Chris Baugh and Brendan Mullin (story credit)
Stars: Jack Rowan, Nigel O’Neill, Louisa Harland, and John Lynch
A crew of hardy road workers, led by a bickering Father and Son, must survive the night when they accidentally awaken an ancient Irish vampire.
Boys from County Hell is a refreshing take on tired vampire lore that balances gory horror-comedy and family drama. Within the opening scene, this movie is ready to show you a bloody good time.
It’s no secret that most modern vampire media has roots in the classic Dracula. It often carries the same conventions and follows the same lore. But what if Bram Stoker’s tale wasn’t as wholly original as it seemed? That’s what Irish country boy Eugene Moffat (Jack Rowan) and his friends William Bogue (Fra Free) and SP McCauley (William Hough) spend their afternoons telling tourists at the local pub–appropriately named the Stoker. It turns out that the sleepy Irish village of Six Mile High has its own folklore regarding the bloodsucking fiend; legendary local vampire Abhartach supposedly resides beneath a cairn in the area and is reportedly the source of Stoker’s inspiration. But when Eugene and his disapproving father (Nigel O’Neill) disturb the cairn with their construction crew, all hell breaks loose.
From the start, the film is just as absurd as the premise promises. With sharp digs at vampire films and some truly great comedic moments, Boys from County Hell is incredibly charming while still offering some great gory moments. The first half of the film focuses primarily on interpersonal drama, slowly building a statement about history and progress through the conflict between father and son. While this shifts slightly in the second half, it gives the movie an uneven tone. The film largely gets this balance right, but there are a few spots where it doesn’t quite work. Sometimes, the film needs less character growth in favor of the horror (or even comedic) elements. Fortunately, that’s forgivable given the rest of the film.
The cast is fantastic here. They breathe life into the script and make the characters feel lived in and genuine when they so easily could have fallen into stereotypes. Rowan and O’Neill play off one another well as a beleaguered father and son who never quite see eye-to-eye, even when facing a supernatural threat. They squabble, argue, and eventually get things done. While the slapstick humor and absurdist events will give you a laugh, it can be hit-or-miss. There were moments I laughed out loud at the combination of physical comedy and character dialogue. Other moments, I groaned at the trying-too-hard elements. Over-the-top slapstick works well for the vibe, but the film doesn’t quite build suspense–though that isn’t really what Boys is interested in doing. Overall, the balance was better after the first act, especially when we begin to see things escalate quickly.
Where the film really shines is the unorthodox approach to vampire lore. Baugh digs deep into the vampire mythos for this, and for anyone who enjoys early folklore, this is a treat! When they realize that Abhartach may be rising from the grave, they turn to their trusty manual to conquer him. In this case, it’s the original text of Dracula. Needless to say, this doesn’t go according to plan, but the meta-commentary present in their discussion of vampire tropes and films is an absolute delight.
The wholly original aspects of the big bad blend seamlessly with early folklore, leaving the audience guessing as well. When it comes to this legendary ghoul, the film leaves a lot to the imagination for most of the film. This less-is-more works well, wrecking (and re-establishing) the rules and your expectations of what the real threat even is. Seriously, you will never see that ending coming!
Overall, Boys from County Hell delivers on the premise. It’s a bloody, fun little vampire flick that I wish would have leaned into the comedic elements more. It’s got plenty of blood while light on gore until the third act. This isn’t the movie for anyone expecting extremes of either. When it does show you some of that carnage, it does it very well. The effects, even when played for laughs, were genuinely terrific. With the abundance of horror-comedy produced these days, Boys from County Hell achieves the most important thing for a work in that genre: it’s memorable.