Directed by: Chris Baugh. Starring: Jack Rowan, Nigel O’Neill, Louisa Harland. Runtime: 1h 28 min. Released: April 22, 2021 (Shudder).
I’m a big fan of vampire movies, and I love those vampire films that can do something different than the norm. The newest Shudder Exclusive film, Boys from County Hell, does just that as it does something different than the usual Dracula fare, though in this story, this small Irish town of Six Mile Hill even has a local pub called The Stoker.
Here, the legend goes that Dracula author Bram Stoker stayed in the town for an evening and that inspired him to write the tale we know so well today, because this town is also home to an ancient Irish vampire called Abhartach. The design of Abhartach himself (seen on the film’s poster) is wicked, and the way he comes into the story intrigues as local 20-something Eugene Moffat (Jack Rowan) spends his days drinking at The Stoker and not doing anything in particular.
His dad, Francie (Nigel O’Neill) owns a construction company and he gets the contract to essentially ruin the town: Build a bypass that interferes with Abhartach’s burial, a very neatly built cairn that some believe to be legitimate, and others believe it’s just there to scare the tourists. One thing the townsfolk can agree on is that most of them don’t want to find out which is true.
Since this is a horror film, it’s most assuredly real. The horror itself is exciting, as it let’s the drama and, more importantly, comedy, flow through the horror of the situation. The character dynamics are well-laid out – especially the up-and-down father-son relationship between Francie and Eugene – and the characters of William (Fra Fee) and his girlfriend Claire (a fun Louisa Harland) have a good dynamic and what occurs with that side of the story is interesting.
Rounding out the main ensemble is the biggest comic relief here, that being SP McCauley (Michael Hough), a lovable bloke who can relieve any tension. He’s a highlight here in a billed comedy-horror that doesn’t pack as many belly laughs as I was expecting, but it definitely holds its share of funny moments, and a scene where a vampire “spins around” is a high-point. It’s dry Irish humour and is more somber in tone at times than I was expecting, so it’s not quite enough to entirely satisfy comedy-wise. However, the horror makes up for it in high-stakes situations that are believable.
And when the horror brings it and gets going, it really brings it. There’s enough depth to these people to keep us invested about what happens to them in this whole ordeal – and enough cool vampire action to make us want Abhartach to keep on getting up. With vampire films, a lot of its merit for me lands with how frightening the villain looks, and here he’s visually nightmarish in design.
It’s also well-paced, starting slowly and building from there, and the horror is rather fluid in the second half. It’s especially neat how the director and writer Chris Baugh (Brendan Mullin has story credit here) plays with classic vampire beliefs and how to defeat them.
There’s one ingenious aspect, too: Director and writer Chris Baugh (Brendan Mullin has story by credit) is able to create such strong tension by the detail that, whenever Abartach gets close to you, you just start bleeding. I’m not sure if that’s directly from the Abhartach legend of right from Baugh’s mind, but just that simple detail is able to create so much dread, as nothing quite says dread like randomly bleeding. It also offers the most visually fascinating aspect of the picture, as well, especially how Baugh immediately grabs attention through this way in the opening scene.
Boys from County Hell is available to stream now on Shudder in the U.S. and Canada.