★★★ out of ★★★★★
Boys from County Hell is a slice of blue-collar Irish horror-comedy, where a road construction crew is tasked with the removal of a stone cairn marking the grave of a vampire that gave inspiration to Bram Stoker. Why is it that characters in Irish comedies always want to leave the isle? It might be the vampires.
Directed by Chris Baugh
Three young blokes in rural County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, who drink their days away at the local pub by night, and do road construction work by day. It’s a rather depressing lot in life, and they get their amusement by scaring tourists who come to their town of Six Mile Hill with legends of a stone cairn of piled rocks that marks the grave of Abhartasch, reportedly the inspiration for Bram Stoker when he was writing Dracula.
Eugene (Jack Rowan) is the handsome son of the Construction Contractor, and is struggling with his relationships with both his driven and cantankerous pa, Francie (Nigel O’Neill) and his veterinarian’s assistant girlfriend, Claire (Louisa Harland). S.P. (Michael Hough) is the hard partying burly best buddy wiseacre, in a vey Nick Frost-like performance. When William (Fra Fee), the third member of the bro-group decides that he wants to leave the Isle, he and Eugene handle it the way Irish lads are reputed to handle it. With a fist fight. At the cairn. And blood is spilled. On the cairn. Yep, it’s vampire time!
Abhartasch, apparently is more than a local legend, he is real, and he just needed a little blood to bring him back. The cairn drains William of blood, but the creature has yet to reveal itself, it can’t, because the cairn is pinning him in place. So, no one is any the wiser. It’s marked up as a mysterious tragedy, but nobody suspects a bloodsucker.
But, here’s where the Construction company comes in. Francie is hired to build a road, and it just so happens that the cairn is right in its path. So, down comes the cairn, and here comes Abhartasch. Unlike the sophisticated Stoker creation of Count Dracula, Abhartasch is a feral ghoul in the mold of Nosferatu. The unfortunate construction crew gets hunted down, and the survivors scramble to mount a defense.
This is a wonderfully gory practical effects movie. Abhartasch has the ability to draw blood from the orifices of his victims, and boy does the blood flow. It’s a wonderful new take on vampirism that provides a unique addition to the vampire “vocabulary”. This vampire also doesn’t just go for the little puncture holes. Abhartasch likes to remove large chunks of flesh. It makes sense, I suppose, faster access to more blood.
It’s a quintessentially Irish film. The sardonic wit, so often associated with Irish culture is in full presence here. The beer flows freely, and the pub as the cultural hub of the community is realized. Restless youths, wondering what better things lie beyond the solemn hills is also in play. This film checks the Irish horror-comedy playbook much like the very entertaining Grabbers did. In a way, I wasn’t sure whether to appreciate these tropes, or to wish that in wouldn’t play so strongly to stereotypes.
Baugh had created a short film by the same name back in 2013, and now having had some reasonable success with his first feature film, Bad Day for the Cut in 2017, he was able to turn back to his beloved short film and produce the full feature film. This full outing is an enjoyable crowd pleaser, with interesting, sympathetic characters. There’s not a lot of depth to this film. I would have liked to get better resolution of the various social dynamics, which ended up tied up at a surface level, when it really seemed like there were deeper issues that needed to be resolved.
But, since we’re talking about a vampire besieging a country village, it has the requisite complexity of a Hammer film, and that worked well for many years, didn’t it? This movie is currently still working through the festival circuit, and I would expect it to be about a year before we see this film streaming. No trailer yet, but when it shows up, we’ll post it!