Irish vampire comedy-horror Boys from County Hell, from writer/director Chris Baugh, brings both the laughs and the scares.
The comedy-horror film often treads a fine line of ensuring both halves of its genre sphere are utilised enough: the scares need to be scary, and the fun needs to be funny. It’s a mish-mash of tones that requires a light touch to make sure they work cohesively, and Chris Baugh’s Boys from County Hell manages to sit firmly balanced between the two.
Six Mile Hill, a town in rural Ireland with an urban legend that intrigued one-time-visitor Bram Stoker. At least, according to local lad Eugene (Jack Rowan), as he leads some unsuspecting tourists to a pile of stones in the middle of a field – supposedly the grave of an ancient bloodsucking creature called Abhartach that inspired Stoker’s Dracula. It’s all a bit of a laugh for him and his friends, in between nights spent drinking at the local pub. But when Eugene and his dad (Nigel O’Neill) start to undertake the building of a bypass through the fields, they awaken something buried there and soon find themselves in a race to protect the town from a bloodthirsty monster keen on revenge.
Vampires are a quintessential staple of horror. Sometimes frightening, sometimes pulpy and camp, they’re a monstrous trope that is used a lot. Boys from County Hell doesn’t reinvent the wheel and is completely aware of that fact, but utilises an old Irish folktale and riffs on existing ‘facts’ – sunshine, stakes through the heart etc. – in a way that feels fresh. It utilises its shocks and gore to great effect, has surprisingly affecting moments of pathos, and is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. Its tonal shifts don’t feel too jarring, blending well into something that feels consistent and engaging, and at a swift 90 minutes it doesn’t linger too long. The momentum dips occasionally, but even in its slower moments, there is enough humour that it doesn’t drag.
The cast are naturalistic and feel authentic; giving off that comfortability that growing up together in such a small town brings. English actor Rowan showcases a passable Irish accent, and gives an impressive comedic performance that doesn’t falter at the film’s more emotional moments. Alongside an impressive group that includes O’Neill, Louisa Harland as Claire, Michael Hough as SP and Fra Fee as Will, they’re a delight to spend time with: deadpan funny, raucous and wonderfully normal. Their realistic incompetence towards this chaotic turn of events is what holds up the lighter moments of the film, while Baugh’s script and direction ensures the horror lands consistently too.
Boys from County Hell is a heck of a lot of fun. Or, as they’d say in Ireland, ‘good craic’. It’s pacey, witty and jump-scarey, with a refreshing take on vampiric lore. Delightfully Irish, and as it’s only his second full-length feature, a sign of impressive things to come from Chris Baugh.