One of the biggest challenges in taking on one of the mainstay subgenres of horror is how to put a new spin on it. The vampire genre is one that some critics might say has been fully explored. Vampires have run the gamut from terrifying to funny to sparkly. What next? How do you keep it interesting? Specifically, how do you tell Dracula without simply retelling Dracula? You have to make Dracula a bit different. Alter the origins. Change the rules. Which is exactly what Chris Baugh does with his new film Boys from County Hell.
Six Mile Hill is a tiny Irish community whose only claim to fame is the belief that it may be home to the grave of one of Ireland’s most famous monsters. According to legend, Abhartach was an undead creature who fed on human blood. It is believed that this legend may have served as inspiration for Bram Stoker as he was writing Dracula. In Six Mile Hill, a large pile of stones sitting in the middle of a field marks the location of the supposed grave and locals - particularly our protagonist, Eugene (Jack Rowan) - get their kicks messing with the tourists who come to visit the monument.
When the film opens, Eugene is a bit lost. He lives in the dilapidated remnants of his late mother’s family home, works half-heartedly for his father’s construction business and spends his evenings drinking in the local pub. He is existing, but he lacks purpose. And he knows it. For better or worse, everything around him is on the precipice of change. The town that has remained unchanged for generations is shifting. Some of the local pastureland is about to be upended for new highway construction, his friend, William (Fra Fee) is about to take a trip to Australia, and Eugene remains stagnant.
As the construction project for the new highway bypass gets underway, the sleepy little town turns deadly, when the grave of Abhartach is disturbed and the evil below is released. Faced with the knowledge that the town legend is not only true, but alive and bloodthirsty, Eugene and his friends are forced to survive the unimaginable and to try to contain the monster before it destroys their home.
The really fun thing about this movie is the way it relies on traditional vampire myths while upending them at the same time. What our characters are dealing with is very old, but the only real knowledge they have about vampires comes from fictions based on their own local legend. So as they go about trying to battle this ancient evil, they have to figure out what actually applies and what doesn’t. Do real vampires fear sunlight? Do wooden stakes really work? What is fact and what is fiction? It’s an interesting way of putting a new spin on the genre while also acknowledging its roots in ancient tradition and folklore.
Like the best horror comedies, Boys from County Hell combine some hilarious moments with some frightening ones. The film takes itself seriously enough to embrace some legitimately scary scenes, but allow enough humor into the mix to allow us to have some fun with the premise and alongside our characters. The cast does a great job at balancing these elements, especially while providing their characters with some space to be vulnerable and connect with one another. There are some very human moments among the frights, and those help the story to really feel grounded in its characters.
I watched Boys from County Hell and Jakob’s Wife in the span of a few days, and if this is an indication that we are on the brink of a resurgence of vampire films, I am all in. It’s exciting to see films like this find a way to bring the classic elements of horror into a new space and redefine them in a modern way. Boys from County Hell is a lot of fun and one that you will definitely want to check out.
Film Score: 4/5