Boys from County Hell boasts a strong premise, but never entirely commits to either its horror or comedy elements.
There’s a cairn out in a clearing in Six Mile Hill, and Eugene Moffat (Jack Rowan) and William Bogue (Fra Fee) take tourists out to it, telling them stories about what’s buried beneath and giving them a fright while they reach it. Underneath this makeshift grave rests Abhartach, a sort of vampire that the boys claim was Bram Stoker’s true inspiration for Dracula, disputing the mid-century myth that the author was inspired by Wallachian king Vlad the Impaler. After all, Stoker was Irish, and so is it all that hard to believe that he spent a night in the town where Abhartach once reigned terror? But Dracula and this monster have their differences, all of which only serve to make Abhartach scarier in comparison. He can’t be killed by sunlight — an invention of Murnau rather than Stoker — and he need not bite his victims to drink their blood, as his very presence causes blood to leave the body and flow to him. The cairn is set to be demolished to make way for new development on the land, an operation headed by Eugene’s father (Nigel O’Neill) and accelerated after William dies tragically on the cairn itself. With this locally-sourced setup, you’d think director Chris Baugh would have a fresh and scary flick on his hands, but Boys from County Hell doesn’t commit to the horrors it unearths, and is satisfied with being little more than a lightly likable horror-comedy.
What follows is a series of confrontations between vampires, Abhartach and otherwise, and the motley construction crew of Eugene, his father, William’s girlfriend Claire (Louisa Hough), and Eugene’s well-traveled but unambitious drinking buddy, SP (Michael Hough). Each of these setpieces sports a strong set-up — the best involves luring a crazed vampire down a hall to be decapitated with an ax when it reaches a doorway — but their execution (no pun intended) is generally lacking save for a clever bit of gore here and there, like a great moment featuring a makeshift stake that shouldn’t be spoiled. That hallway sequence is strong not just for its taut premise and clear geography, but for its many twists, more than are in the rest of the film, which is too often straightforward and unexceptional. Similarly, ill-advisedly restrained is Boys from County Hell‘s use of gore; it’s the film’s unambiguous strength in terms of both horror and comedy, but Baugh seems to have deemed it a secret weapon rather than Plan A. Individual images, like that of blood inexplicably bursting from a woman’s nose and flowing out of her home, are more affecting than anything that happens in any of the chase scenes, and effectively articulate how a legend like Abhartach could make for a much scarier film than this.
But while horror movies do not, as a rule, have to be scary, comedies do have to be funny, and it’s difficult to point to moments here that are even meant to be so. Most of what the film finds funny seems to be the relatively nonplussed reactions of world-weary, blue-collar Irish folk to the horrors at hand, as if they have more important things to do than be shocked at the gruesome death of their security guard. At first, this feels novel, entrenched in a specificity of a place and its peoples, but it soon reads like little more than a familiar ironic distance mistaken for madcap humor. Beyond William’s death setting the plot in motion, no loss in the film registers for more than a moment, not because it sports a high body count, but because those unlucky few go out with a lame quip. This is not gonzo horror-comedy in the vein of Evil Dead 2, but rather more indebted to the referential, disengaged Shaun of the Dead. But where that film is filled to the brim with jokes and recognizable style, Boys from County Hell seems to merely aim for being pleasant and inoffensive, which isn’t exactly the ideal lane for gore-heavy vampire cinema.
You can stream Chris Baugh’s Boys from County Hell on Shudder beginning on April 22.