Despite its title Boys from County Hell isn’t another backwoods hicksploitation film. It’s actually an Irish horror comedy that pits a road crew against the Emerald Isle’s own species of bloodsucker. Writer/director Chris Baugh (Bad Day for the Cut) has expanded the short he did with co-writer Brendan Mullin to feature-length, and the results definitely don’t suck.
Eugene (Jack Rowan, Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands) lives in Six Mile Hill, a rural Irish town where, according to legend, Bram Stoker got the inspiration for Dracula. Eugene and his buddies S.P. (Michael Hough, Grabbers, Chapelwaite) and William (Fra Fee, Monochrome) get a bit of amusement scaring tourists who’ve come to see the cairn that marks the grave of Abhartach (Robert Nairne, The Jack in the Box, Vampire Virus) the legendary bloodsucker who inspired Stoker.
But all is not well in Eugene’s life. His father Francie (Nigel O’Neill, The Clandestine), who he’s somewhat estranged from, is the contractor tasked with building a new highway that’s very unpopular with the locals. He’s also having issues with his girlfriend, and since the highway will force his family off their land, William is looking to leave the country to make his fortune. But when Abhartasch turns out to be more than a legend they become the least of his problems.
Boys from County Hell gets off to a good start with Baugh navigating between some funny and quite serious moments as he sets the film’s story up. He does an excellent job of making these scenes flow together smoothly where the shifts in tone could have been jarring. Only the prologue, which is effective in and of itself, feels out of place.
By the time building the road requires Eugene to tear down the cairn only to come back to find it rebuilt and the night watchman missing we have a good sense of the main characters and their town. Which makes their fight for survival all the more compelling.
Much of Boys from County Hell’s scares and humour flow from the same source. Abhartach isn’t a traditional vampire. That means the usual methods of killing one don’t work on him, leaving these hapless vampire hunters resorting to trial and error. Lots and lots of error.
The humour is inherent in how the characters react to the horrific situation they find themselves in. Because they’re a bunch of rough road workers. I wanted them to treat the task of killing vampires in the same way they would treat any other job. With a matter of fact, slightly weary kind of attitude.Chris Baugh, director Boys from County Hell
All of this is accompanied by some bloody practical effects and creature work from Bowsie Workshop and Millennium FX. Much like the vampires in Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, Abhartach can make his victims bleed from their mouths and eyes, drawing the blood to him. The gore starts with impaling that rips the heart from it’s victim’s body. Our heroes’ reaction when he gets up and walks around, still impaled, is one of Boys from County Hell’s best laughs.
There’s a thread of seriousness among the blood and laughs though. Eugene must come to grips with his relationships both with his father and Claire (Louisa Harland, Derry Girls). And that, in part, means coming to grips with himself.
The film also benefits from a great selection of songs on the soundtrack. Most genre fans will get a kick out of hearing the best-known song from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Dokken’s Dream Warriors, played in the pub. For me though, Boys from County Hell’s musical highlight was Bad Penny by the late Rory Gallagher, the best guitarist Ireland ever produced.
Boys from County Hell will stream exclusively to Shudder on April 22nd in the US and Canada, as well as via the Shudder offering within the AMC+ bundle. You can check its Facebook page for more information.