There is an air of Celtic melancholy running through the, ahem, deadpan humor of THE BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL. That touch elevates the, further ahem, stakes in this horror comedy that takes a few swipes at fraught family relationships, a sinking economy, and Bram Stoker’s relevance when a real vampire resurfaces.
The supernatural is almost incidental to the plight of the bucolic Irish village of Six Mile Hill. There’s a bypass coming through that is displacing a local family and irritating everyone else because it’s also going to take out the area’s one true tourist attraction, an ancient cairn said to keep the local vampire at bay. Aside from the historical interest, and the rumor that it inspired Stoker to pen Dracula, there’s precious little for any of the locals to do for entertainment except drown their ennui at the local pub, the aptly or ironically monikered The Stoker. Mr. Stoker it seems, gets little respect from the locals.
It’s at The Stoker that Eugene (Jack Rowan) and his best mate William (Fra Fee) and kill time by drinking too much and occasionally taking tourists up to the cairn while spinning tales of Abhartach (Robert Nairne), the blood-drinking monster still lurking beneath his pile of stones. Things turn serious, though, when William announces that he’s off to Australia. Things turn even more serious when a late-night drunken walk home results in a freak accident that leave William dead, and his undertaker father blaming Eugene. As for the implications of what Eugene sees as William bleeds to death at the cairn, as in, his blood not just being absorbed slowly into the ground, but drawn forcefully, that will become obvious in due time to our characters.
Sure, there’s a bloodsucker on the loose, but the real story here is the relationship between Eugene and his father, Francie (Nigel O’Neill), a taciturn contractor hired to actually take down the cairn. They’ve been at odds since William’s mother died under mysterious circumstances and William insisted on moving into the ramshackle cottage his mother left him to be a farmer instead of joining the family business. One of the film’s best moments comes when Eugene and Francie, fighting for their lives, have a genuine bonding moment that involves one of them knocking the other cold. It’s all in the context, which allows the one to have no other way of expressing a tender sentiment towards the other. And the unexpected guffaw it provokes in the viewer is matched only by the novel, and gruesome, weapon William later improvises that saves them both.
As for the usual tropes of puzzling out that there’s a vampire on the loose, they’re upended with the hardnosed practicality of villagers whose initial concerns with the first encounter with the undead run to having to explain a body with its heart skewered outside its chest and wondering why there are no fangs. Director/co-writer Chris Baugh concocts here a refreshing new take on the vampire mythos, one that is ingenious as well as providing some delightful surprises as our bemused heroes and heroines do befuddled with stalwart battle with the ancient evil in their midst. Here blood doesn’t wait to be consumed, it flows purposefully from various orifices before snaking along the ground as though it is late for an appointment. Abhartach himself is as original as the concept. Gone is the hypersexualized pretty boys of YA novels and their ilk. As he moves with deadly intent, the sound design gives him a clicking sound like the rattle of the desiccated carcass that he is.
Filmed with an elegant style that calls out the best of the Hammer Films of yore, THE BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL is a rambunctious flight of fancy and terror oddly designed to warm the cockles of your heart.