'Boys From County Hell' is the kind of horror comfort that you throw on with your mates and share plenty of laughs over, without any sacrificed bite.
- 🍺 Self-aware and silly.
- 🍺 Still brings ferocity.
- 🍺 An interesting twist on vampire abilities.
- 🍺 Supporting characters can feel slight.
- 🍺 The camera pans away from intrigue once or twice.
- 🍺 Takes a lot of swings, and some might not work for all.
In my Irish horror, like Boys from County Hell, I’m looking for “authentic” signatures: thick-as-wool accents, the stench of pub lager, and a hearty sense of humor. Chris Baugh’s everyman vampire fare checks all the required boxes while approaching fanged folklore with a revitalized approach that playfully scoffs at historied interpretations. It’s got the confidence to mock Bram Stoker and moxie to “steal” Dokken’s A Nightmare On Elm Street original, all while sharing a few laughs over thrashing cadavers. Three cheers for a roguish, rambunctious bloodsucker flick that rewrites common vampirism rulebooks and has a bloody blast in the process—yet understands enough about tradition not to upset the icons of yesteryear.
Eugene Moffat (Jack Rowan) lives an unmotivated life in Six Mile Hill, an off-the-road community proudly capitalizing on the famous claim that Bram Stoker stayed there overnight. A cairn gravesite supposedly marks the burial place of Abhartach, the "real" and slain inspiration for Stoker’s acclaimed novel Dracula—where locals like Eugene, William (Fra Fee), and SP (Michael Hough) spook tourists. That’s until Eugene’s father accepts a bypass construction contract that’ll run straight through Six Mile Hill and Abhartach’s resting spot, which Eugene unsettles. Surely an uneven pile of stones can’t prevent a supernatural killing machine's bloodthirsty emancipation—at least that’s what Eugene hopes.
Immediately, Boys from County Hell meets viewers with silliness and snark that denounces vampiric myths as written by Stoker with proclamations of make-believe. Eugene and William trick Canadian hikers at Abhartach’s earthly monument—teasing Stoker's superfans—but Baugh juxtaposes this eye-roll attitude against horror media with bountiful nods to genre classics. Whether that’s Eugene’s favorite watering hole, “The Stoker” with its An American Werewolf In London vibes, or “Dream Warriors” as background tunes, or the Rolodex of anti-vampire defense methods debated by these gruff and resourceful road workers. There’s a subtle yet punchy game being played between characters who spew meta-humor about Stoker’s ineffectiveness versus the obvious realization that they’re living a horror narrative, and it’s cheekily enjoyable (down to livestock corrals in top-down crucifix outlines).
Enter the threat of Abhartach and any converted minions, where vampire appreciation becomes about fierceness and mystery. Abhartach is a primal Nosferatu with decaying features that confirm his lengthy damnation rotting underneath packed soil, with powers that needn’t puncture arteries. As Abhartach nears victims, crimson nectar begins to flow from noses, eye sockets, even other bodily openings as blood rushes towards its master—no bites necessary. Baugh defies Universal Monster logic by presenting an overlord vampire who wills the sucking of blood without confrontation, restructuring typical stakes seen repeatedly in films like From Dusk Till Dawn, Byzantium, What We Do in the Shadows, even Twilight. Better still? It’s sharply effective in its reinvigoration.
That said, Boys from County Hell still calls upon staple notes of gore-slick action and horror-comedy wits. Will’s bartender girlfriend Claire (Louisa Harland) skewers a transformed town drunk with his still-beating heart as a kebab capper, which leads to a panicked and flabbergasted exchange between blue-collar workers trying to rationalize the undead. Banter that requires subtitles caricatures these gruff backhoe operators frantically trying to outsmart resurrected soldiers or Abhartach. While it’s not an outright army they face, there’s still enough coffin-play and Fright Night adjacent combat with an upbeat Gaelic spirit (slash cynicism). Baugh especially excels at extracting blood from townspeople minding their own business, as sanguine streams start gushing from orifices with a visual repugnance that’s impressive in spectacle terms. It reminds of Deathgasm when pedestrians begin puking reddish bile into the street, albeit more fantastical and refined as red mini-rivers flow in the shape of veins toward their thirsty consumer.
Beyond expected violence and vileness, Boys from County Hell surprises using its driving father-son themes between Eugene and Francie Moffat (Nigel O'Neill). Their bickering and eye-to-eye failures become a constant tension point while the two Moffats reconcile their hardheaded relationship hurdles amidst attempting to vanquish Abhartach. The same from John Lynch as Will’s father, a mortician with an unthinkable otherworldly choice. Worse films would run Francie’s constant sizing-down of Eugene in pivotal moments six feet under, but Francie’s concrete shell and Eugene’s feelings of worthlessness in his father’s eyes become something they both wholesomely address through drastic, painful means that once again emphasize over-the-top grossness. It’s a vampire movie, after all—what’s growth without delicious agony?
Boys from County Hell isn’t strictly experimental but benefits from its narrative freshness despite being able to smell Abhartach’s graveyard pungency through the screen. Chris Baugh achieves hybridization found in titles like Attack The Block that launch axes-first into a hardcore genre concept rooted in something more meaningful than guts and glory. Who doesn’t love horror fare that juggles organs, heartache, and longstanding expectations without dropping any balls? You might catch some noticeable ADR volume inconsistencies or wish choice characters were permitted more to do than chug tallboys, but those aren’t dealbreakers by a long shot. It’s the kind of horror experience that feels like another rousing and reliable night out with the gang—except you’re forced to wrestle with vampires after the second round of shots.
Boys from County Hell hits Shudder April 22nd, 2021.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for such outlets as What To Watch, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria, Shudder, Ebert Voices, and countless other publications. He is a member of the Hollywood Critics Association and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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