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Boys From County Hell Review

April 24, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Boys From County Hell
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Boys From County Hell Review  

Directed by: Chris Baugh
Written by: Chris Baugh

* Jack Rowan – Eugene Moffat
* Nigel O’Neill – Francie Moffat
* Louisa Harland – Claire McCann
* Michael Hough – SP McCann
* Fra Fee – William Bogue
* Robert Nairne – Abhartach
* Andrea Irvine – Pauline Bogue
* John Lynch – George Bogue

Running Time: 90 minutes
Not rated.

The vampire film is a difficult one with which to find any new ground to break. Vampires have been a staple of horror movies since the inception of film, and since then they’ve been depicted in just about every way imaginable. The most famous of course are those based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, from the Bela Lugosi classic and the swagger of Christopher Lee in the Hammer films to the cheesy turn-of-the-millennium “hipness” of Dracula 2000.

And yet, despite all the different versions of the Dracula story, film always finds a way to retell the tale, sometimes in wildly divergent takes. That brings us to Boys From County Hell. Newly released on Shudder, Chris Baugh’s sophomore film finds a new approach to the idea of Dracula and a dark comic sensibility that serves it quite well.

The film takes its inspiration from the theory that Bram Stoker didn’t base the most famous vampire in pop culture not mostly on Vlad Tepes, but instead on the Irish legend of Abhartach. The film’s fictional sleepy Irish town of Six Mile Hill claims to be the home to the cairn where Abhartach lays and inspired Stoker to create Dracula. The world has largely passed by the town, and the locals include Eugene (Rowan), a directionless young man who spends his days in the local pub (named “The Stoker”) with his friends and pranking tourists who come to visit the supposed gravesite.

Eugene’s life is one at a crossroads. His relationship with his father Francie (O’Neill) is fraught, and Six Mile Hill is facing the pitfall of modernization as a new road development project will displace his best friend William’s (Fee) family. That’s complicated by the fact that Francie is in charge of the construction, which also threatens to destroy the cairn that brings in the tourism. After a personal tragedy, Eugene agrees to work on Francie’s team and when the cairn is torn down, they find that there’s more truth to the legend than they believed. Eugene and Francie must ally with Eugene’s friends Claire (Harland) and SP (Hough) to save the town from a vampire who doesn’t play by the rules pop culture has taught them to believe about the undead.

Baugh is Irish born and bred, and you can see his heritage seeping out of every pore of Boys From County Hell. Whether it’s the title itself (taken from a song off The Pogues’ debut album) or the little touches to the town, Baugh makes his little vampire film one that feels entirely genuine to the setting. That authenticity rings throughout the film, a testament to Baugh’s dedication to making a film that fits the place he grew up.

The attention to veracity also helps ground the proceedings, which is essential for a movie that goes as wild as this. Baugh plays liberally with the rules of vampirism, throwing a lot of fun twists into the mythology. That’s often where the humor comes in, as the characters try to use the methods, they know from the myths only to find that they don’t work all that well.

It’s a bit much to call this a “horror comedy,” as the majority of the film plays into the heart and the trauma of the characters’ relationships with each other. But when things start to get a wild and bloody, there are some truly funny moments thanks to the characters’ bewildered reactions. O’Neill is an actor that Baugh knows well, having worked with him on his directorial debut Bad Day For the Cut, and he gets a great performance out of not only him, but Rowan, Harland, and Hough in particular as our four main protagonists.

In fact, it’s the actors and their performances that provide the best moments in the film. These are characters who, despite not having deeply developed backstories, feel lived-in and real. It’s easy to root for them as actual people, but they also have familiar feels as horror characters. You could very much imagine this film taking place in the same world as something like Shaun of the Dead, though it stands entirely distinct from Edgar Wright’s film. The dry humor and wit are there, but Baugh’s directorial choices and Ryan Kernaghan’s cinematography give this film a different tone that eases off the direct comedy in exchange for something a bit more naturalistic.

That said, when it’s time for the horror to crawl out and play Baugh doesn’t hold back. The monstrous Abhartach is often kept to the shadows, but when we do see him, he is a sight to behold with a dark, emaciated look and gruesome features. There’s no shortage of gore here, and the practical effects are largely quite winning. The key to making a horror film with comedic elements is allowing both parts to stand on their own, and that’s what happens here.

Even when the movie does start to get a bit long in the tooth as we lurch toward the finale, it never loses its way. The extended cat-and-mouse showdown during the climax feels a bit too long, but it’s bolstered by a fantastic bit of improvised weaponry that is as ridiculously funny as it is brutal.

There are a couple of other elements that don’t quite work as well, to be fair. A subplot involving the lineage of Abhartach’s previous conqueror is undercooked, for one, and seems thrown in just to get the characters to a specific location. There’s also a message here about the thoughtless destruction that the rush to modernization can have on rural communities, which may not be quite as effective as it wants to be as it gets lost in the ramping up toward the climax. But when it’s this much fun to watch, it’s hard to lean too heavily on Boys From County Hell’s flaws and much easier to just enjoy the ride.

Boys From County Hell is now available to stream as a Shudder exclusive.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Chris Baugh's Boys From County Hell is a fun and often funny Irish-set twist on the vampire film. Baugh gets creative with the rules of vampirism to solid effect, and uses the small-town Irish setting to give his darkly comic horror flick a unique feel. His able ensemble cast makes fine work of the material, while the largely practical effects shine. Even if a couple of elements get muddled here and there as the push to the climax ramps up, this is a fun and sometimes surprisingly emotional indy horror film that's worth checking out.

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Shudder, Jeremy Thomas