Boys from County Hell reawakens a bloodthirsty beast under an Irish bypass

Chris Baugh’s gang of monster hunters take on a new vampire variant, allowing for well-staged battles and clever riffing on the genre’s literary traditions.

5 August 2021

By Kim Newman

Boys from County Hell (2021)
Sight and Sound

Boys from County Hell is in UK cinemas from 6 August.

An academic industry has sprung up examining the sources for Bram Stoker’s Dracula – and attention has been paid to the folklore of Stoker’s native Ireland. Previously, Michael Almereyda’s The Eternal (1998), a loose adaptation of Stoker’s Egyptology-based novel The Jewel of Seven Stars, made a link between Stoker’s mummy and Irish archaeological finds of bodies preserved in peat bogs. Here, writer-director Chris Baugh makes a similar connection with Stoker’s vampire, mixing Irish lore (the Abhartach was supposedly a bloodsucking dwarf) and cinema precedent to come up with a vampire variant that is at once ancient and relatively fresh. By the finale, the savvy hero has learned from bitter experience that the business about vampires dissolving at dawn was “invented by some German director 20 years after the book was written” but a workable new set of rules for the arch-fiend has been written.

For the most part, this fits into the wry, flip, rather-be-drinking-than-fighting-the-undead mode (the local pub, of course, is called the Stoker) of Irish horror cinema typified by Conor McMahon’s Dead Meat (2004) and Jon Wright’s Grabbers (2012) with some of the black comic verve of early Peter Jackson.

Boys from County Hell (2021)

The welcome presence of a grizzled John Lynch – as a dour undertaker aggrieved by the routing of a road through his home (demolishing the major local tourist attraction, which is also keeping the monster in its grave) and the rising of his killed-by-a-bull son as a bloodthirsty monster – also evokes the more serious tone of Billy O’Brien’s Isolation (2005).

The economic blight inflicted on this rural community by an uncaring government is a natural precursor to the return of an ancient tyrant who shares the bad habits of too many in the town (the hero admits that if he were resurrected after centuries under the earth, he’d “just want to sit in my house and drink too”) as he draws the blood out of villagers from a distance and gluts himself on it when it is funnelled into his lair.

Nicely underplayed by Jack Rowan and Nigel O’Neill as a bickering father and son, ostracised because they’re the contractors who are willing to work on the new road but forced to step up and put the monster back in its place, and Louisa Harland and Michael Hough as the other members of a small band of learning-on-the-job fearless vampire killers, Boys from County Hell also stretches to well-staged encounters with three different creatures who escalate in fearsomeness from inept but surprisingly hard to pin down to tenaciously malevolent.

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