The Boys From County Hell Puts Its Own Bite on the Vampire Genre

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Eugene (Jack Rowan) finds something eerie buried on his property.
Photo: Shudder
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The rural Irish village of Six Mile Hill is notable for one reason: a local vampire legend that supposedly inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula. But what happens when the legend... wakes up? That’s the premise for the genial yet gory The Boys From County Hell, written and directed by Chris Baugh.

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Like most small towns, Six Mile Hill’s young-adult generation has to make a choice: stick around and do what their parents did, or strike out into the world and start a life somewhere else. Eugene (Jack Rowan), his best friend William (Fra Fee), and William’s girlfriend Claire (Derry Girls’ Louisa Harland) are approaching that horizon, but only William—an ambitious, college-educated sports hero—has plans to flee. Eugene’s renovating an old home on property that’s long belonged to the family of his late mother, while Claire’s working at the local pub—which happens to be called the Stoker and is filled with horror memorabilia, in tribute to a certain Irish author who may have once visited Six Mile Hill and used a bit of spooky local folklore to inform his most famous novel.

The Stoker is also the perfect place for Eugene and William to troll the smattering of tourists who visit Six Mile Hill specifically because of the legend, the truth of which is bolstered by a curious pile of stones, or “cairn,” said to cover the final resting place of Abhartach, the ancient bloodsucking creature that supposedly once terrorized the village. Unfortunately for everyone, the grave just happens to be directly located in the path of a new road being built by Eugene’s gruff father, Francie (Nigel O’Neill)—who’s reluctantly added his son to the construction crew despite their tense relationship, and who has no compunction about destroying the only interesting landmark in town, much less any time for vampire stories.

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Claire (Louisa Harland) and Eugene have a pint about it.
Image: Shudder

You can already guess where all this is heading, and while the route The Boys From County Hell takes to get there does indulge in some tropes (including one of my favorites: the realization that “real” vampires don’t necessarily follow the same rules that “fictional” vampires in books and movies do), it works hard to make you care about its characters. Eugene and Francie have a lot of personal demons they need to plow through before they can face a literal monster together, and though the rest of the townspeople aren’t quite as well fleshed-out, you get a sense of how high-stakes their sudden supernatural crisis is.

Aside from rivers of red stuff, The Boys From County Hell delivers some other gore effects we won’t spoil here, other than to say we’ve never seen a makeshift weapon quite like the one deployed in the final battle, and for that we applaud Baugh’s creative spirit. We also appreciate his wry sense of humor; while the movie does dig into some emotional wounds, it balances that with a fair amount of goofballery, like a fight scene set to the improbably jaunty sounds of Eddie Cochrane’s vintage party anthem “C’Mon Everybody.” However, The Boys From County Hell is not a horror-comedy; it’s more like the characters are able to acknowledge the absurdity of their predicament—“If I’d been under the ground that long, I’d just want to sit in the house and drink as well,” Eugene realizes as he’s trying to figure out the location of Abhartach’s blood-guzzling lair—while simultaneously being scared shitless.

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The road crew makes an unpleasant after-hours discovery.
Image: Shudder
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The Boys From County Hell’s setting, however, is probably the element that makes it stand out the most from similar vampires-in-a-small-town fare. At times you may long for subtitles—the thick Irish accents, not to mention some of the unfamiliar slang, can be tough to decipher—but that really adds to the sense of Six Mile Hill being a place with its own specific culture, and thousands of years of history, not all of it pleasant, to go with it.

“There are plenty of dead things in the ground around here if you want them,” a character tells Eugene after he shows off a skull he unearthed on his property—and as The Boys From County Hell amply demonstrates, sometimes it takes a dead thing to remind everyone of the reasons worth staying alive.

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The Boys From County Hell premieres today on Shudder.


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io9 News Editor, here since 2016. Previously SF Bay Guardian newspaper (RIP), SFSU (MA, Cinema Studies), member of the SF Bay Area Film Critics Circle, big fan of horror, metal, and verrry small dogs.

DISCUSSION

BlueSeraph
BlueSeraph

So I just watched this movie. Didn’t need shudder for that. And the movie was fun, but not at all what I was expecting from the trailer. The trailer made it come off more comedy horror while the movie pretty much takes itself seriously for most of the time. The beginning of the movie actually sets the tone in a very freaky well made scene. It definitely was cool to see a possible novel approach on how a vampire can drain blood. But it definitely felt straight up horror which made me think the trailer promised a different tone.

There were comedic moments. But it was jarring for the most part. They didn’t blend well with the horror aspect, but it didn’t feel forced. It’s more like, you’re scared to die, so you make inappropriate remarks as a defense/coping mechanism. 80-85% of the movie is a serious horror monster film. And the comedic moments were chuckles at most. Except for one very funny moment involving a phone call trying to convince the police to do something without saying there’s a vampire loose.

The vampire aspect is based off an Irish legend. There’s actually two versions of this legend. One is the modern version that comes off as a vampire, while the original was a tyrannical dwarf magician. Obviously they went with the modern version of the story since...anyway, it really was theorized as an alternative origin for the inspiration to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

One of the flaws in this film is how most of the people lose blood, while cool, is used too often to the point it felt gimmicky. The story Abhartach would make for an interesting character, but the version in the movie is an impressive looking but nothing more than a 1 dimensional growling zombiefied/demon/vampire like creature. There a couple other flaws one including a somewhat lackluster epilogue of the movie. A couple of the deceased/undead characters fates are left a little unresolved in the epilogue considering the mythos this vampire movie had set up. It would’ve been nice for them to really test just how invulnerable the vampire is. I mean bulldozers, weren’t around back then to turn a vampire into jelly, then burn to ash and bury it under tar, asphalt, and cement. In fact, the fate of the main antagonist is not truly resolved but the movie doesn’t end with a question mark. It just ends bluntly yet satisfactory.

Despite the flaws in the movie, I feel it’s forgivable as I had fun by the end. The movie keeps the whole vampire aspect simple and direct. It doesn’t flesh it out (no pun intended) or try to give it many layers. Otherwise it would be a different kind of movie all together. The vampire aspect in Jacob’s Wife had layers that made it a different kind of gore horror movie, while this one plays it blunt and to the point. It delivers what it promises. A fun monster movie where laughing out loud is just a bonus but not the goal. This movie just wants to have fun.

I have seen some movies I couldn’t recommend like Come True, Cosmic Sin, The Toll, The Resort, Doors. But this one I would recommend to watch for fun.