The Irish vampire film is a refreshingly funny take on the genre that still finds plenty of time for the bloody kills as well
Chris Baugh’s Boys From County Hell does for the vampire genre what Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead did for zombies back in 2004. Both films take their horror side seriously, splashing the screen with proper bloody undead violence and legitimate thrills, while at the same time being uproariously hilarious. The two have very different style and pace (Boys From County Hell is Irish whereas Shaun of the Dead is English) but both filmmakers have the same perfect timing for when to pull the horror back with a killer punchline of some sort. And naturally, there’s a lot of heart there as well.
Boys From County Hell takes place in a small Irish town called Six Mile Hill, where your options for an exciting life are slim to none. It’s peaceful but it’s boring, especially for a local group of young friends that include Eugene (Jack Rowan), Claire (Louisa Harland of Derry Girls, a show that you should watch ASAP), SP (Michael Hough), and William (Fra Fee). There isn’t much else to do besides have a few pints down at The Stoker, the town pub named after Bram Stoker himself. Six Mile Hill contains the burial site of the supposed inspiration for Stoker’s Dracula, a vampire named Abhartach who met his end in a nearby field. The spot is marked by a pile of stones, serving as the town’s only tourist attraction and the spot where Eugene and his friends occasionally stave off their boredom by pranking said tourists.
But things are starting to change as the group is getting older, not only for themselves but for the town as well. William is thinking about leaving to try his luck out in Australia. A new bypass is set to start construction soon, a project being helmed by Eugene’s father, Francie (Nigel O’Neill). It promises to put several local businesses out of commission, much to the disgust of the community, and the guilt weighs heavily on Eugene as he’s roped into helping with it. As one can guess, the construction eventually paves over ol’ Abhartach’s resting place, and it makes the ancient vampire a bit upset. As residents become infected and blood starts to flow through the streets, it’s up to Eugene, his friends, and his father to save the town from supernatural vengeance.
Braugh’s film is an ensemble piece that’s carried by its strong cast, who deliver the necessary terror and intensity of being chased by undead ghouls while also nailing the film’s sudden switches to deadpan humor. Most of the film takes place over a single hellish evening, and Rowan in particular captures the exhaustion of having to process and deal with so many insane things happening at once. But it’s O’Neill as Francie who gets the biggest laughs, as a no-nonsense father who views the current vampire infestation as a nuisance more than anything else. The film’s other best bits are its needle drops and the way it has a blast with the fact that the vamps won’t go down easily, resulting in some memorable physical comedy.
The makeup and effects of the vampires themselves are familiar but still fantastic, taking more cues from zombie films than the usual vamp flicks. Abhartach is more of a slow and methodical monster than a sleek and polished bloodsucker, and the infected townsfolk run around mauling others in a way normally associated with the walking dead. It’s one of the ways Baugh and his team differentiate themselves from other vampire work; reinventing them as nonverbal, murderous creatures rather than what you might see in something like What We Do in the Shadows. They’re a proper threat, and the danger is still allowed to feel real in between the jokes.
The film’s central drama is between Eugene and Francie, and how the death of their respective mother and wife is something that the two have refused to speak to each other about despite their constant bickering. There’s a continuous theme of grief and loss amongst the characters, but Eugene and Francie’s story is the only one that’s really followed through. The rest is left a bit vague – not every character feels as fully realized as they could be, but in the interest of time and pacing, perhaps it’s for the best. C’est la vie.
Boys From County Hell is a refreshing take for vampire movies with a solid Irish sense of humor, and it takes a few surprising turns throughout that keeps it as interesting as it is funny.
Boys From County Hell is streaming exclusively on Shudder starting April 22nd.