Boys from County Hell takes place in Six Mile Hill, a quaint little town with “ties” to vampire lore. And I use the word “ties” loosely. Dracula scribe Bram Stoker once spent a night at the town pub, and now Six Mile Hill is to vampires what Roswell is to aliens.
The gimmicky attraction would come off as charming if it all didn’t feel so sad. With its cold gray skies and stern-faced locals, Six Mile Hill is less a tourist hotspot than a place where dreams go to die. So it’s hard to blame Eugene (Jack Rowan) for languishing away in his ramshackle home. When he’s not hustling Canadian tourists for their cash, the young man spends his days chugging pints with his pals.
Eugene’s life takes a dark turn after a construction crew desecrates the resting place of Abhartach, a mythic Irish vampire said to be the inspiration for Dracula.
But vampires are the stuff of legend right? Well, not in Six Mile Hill. Once the locals violate Abhartach’s resting place, people start turning up dead. As night descends upon Eugene and his friends, they must confront the malevolent forces stalking their town if they hope to escape with their lives.
Writer-director Chris Baugh caught me off guard during the film’s opening moments. I couldn’t tell whether this was a Ghostbusters-style horror-comedy or a straight-up horror movie. The opening sequence sees a gruesome act inflicted upon an unsuspecting elderly couple. What unfolds is as bloody and unsettling as anything out of an R-rated slasher flick.
Tonally, An American Werewolf in London makes for a fair comparison. I’m not saying Boys from County Hell is on par with the John Landis’ 1981 classic. Whereas horror-comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland play the undead for laughs, the ghouls in this film always feel menacing.
Although Boys from County Hell features plenty of wise-cracking, I didn’t find the film laugh-out-loud funny – though I may have lightly chuckled under my breath once or twice. Baugh really has a tough job here striking the right tone. I won’t say he nailed it, but he didn’t mess things up either. The jokes don’t detract from the scares or feel out of place given the dire circumstances the characters find themselves in.
The creature designs don’t offer anything we haven’t seen before – one bloodsucker even looks like Doug Jones’ What We Do in the Shadows character, Baron Afanas. While I got a kick out of this likeness, these bloodsuckers are still creepy enough to unsettle viewers who scare easily.
Baugh keeps you on edge by subverting vampire movie tropes. I suspect these creatures are part cockroach because daylight, garlic, and even beheadings don’t always kill them. The film is at its best when characters scramble to find ways to kill these unholy fiends. Vampire movies have been done to death, and I appreciate any script that makes an effort to bring something new to the table.
Boys from County Hell takes its time getting going, so if you’re hoping for end-to-end excitement, this flick isn’t for you. Baugh’s middle-of-the-road horror-comedy delivers a few chuckles, some decent scares, and a unique spin on vampire lore.
Boys from County Hell arrives on Shudder in the US and Canada on April 22, 2021.