What can we do with vampires that hasn’t already been done? It’s easy to ask this question when we’ve all lived through the sparkly-fleshed, soap-opera hairdo’d era of the Twilight series, where beautiful depressed people actually want to become one of undead servants of Satan. If it means driving cool cars and somehow avoiding decrepitude, well, Old Scratch drives a hard bargain.
But we’re not here to relive that threadbare Twilight era of cinematic vampirism. My point is, as much as we all love vampires, they’ve been done to undeath. The lore itself has been jabbed in the heart, drowned in holy water, decapitated, sunburnt, buried, and dug up so many times, with all due respect, it’s kind of hard not to see what’s coming. That’s how we ended up in this glittery mess to begin with!
Anyway, what I’m talking about is the new horror comedy from Irish writer-director Chris Baugh, Boys From County Hell, that doesn’t do so much for the types of characters dealing with vampires—which is typically all you have to work with to really mix up a vampire flick—as it does with the actual vampire lore it suggests.
When father/son groundwork contractors—Francie and Eugene Moffat (Nigel O’Neill and Jack Rowan)—are tasked with digging up a piece of farmland for a new roadway that’s home to an ancient mysterious cairn said to be the final resting place of the once undead Abhartach (Robert Nairne) who fed off the blood of humans by simply being in the same room with them, well, the locals get a little nervous about what could possibly go wrong.
But before ol’ Abhartach can even be stirred by the rumble of a bulldozer, Eugene and his pal William (Fra Fee) are attacked by a boar one night on the way back from the local pub—The Stoker—leading to William’s death on the cairn which results in more plots than a graveyard, getting in the way of a pretty interesting story. But essentially, William turns into a vampire, emotions take over, Eugene knocks over the cairn, and the undead Abhartach is unleashed to prowl the tiny town of Six Mile Hill, magnetically draining the blood of anyone he strolls past.
And because Baugh’s script boldly insists that Dracula author Bram Stoker was inspired by the Abhartach legend and not the Eastern European lore that history suggests for his famous novel, well, the regular rules for dispatching vampires don’t apply to the Irish variety of the undead. Of course our humble gang of Irish locals composed of the girlfriend (Louisa Harland), the father (O’Neill), and the husky ride-or-die comic relief pal (Michael Hough), are all tasked with not only how to handle their now fanged friend William, but what kind of tricks it will take to stop Abhartach from turning everyone in town into blood faucets.
This movie’s backstory ultimately winds up being more interesting than the movie itself, but the trouble is that we don’t get much backstory. What we do know is fascinating enough to be its own movie, if not at the very least a more interesting prologue than the one we got which ends up being repeated later in the film. Baugh also runs into trouble by engorging this story with so much plot that becomes almost too much to relegate. The “what are we gonna do about William” plot and all the backstory that goes with it seems to run parallel with the “what are we gonna do about Abhartach” plot, but then the William plot seems to be the focus and then I kind of forgot about the Abhartach plot that I found more interesting in the first place. Then the William plot stops short and I’m still not sure if it was resolved entirely. At any rate, there were characters I cared about that left me wondering what happened to them. The Abhartach plot is eventually resolved but it’s not quite as exciting or gory as the violence implies, so if gore is your kink, then you’ll want to manage your expectations.
It comes as no surprise that this movie was developed from a short film, and the feature-length version would have benefitted from one more script pass to flesh out the emotional arc of the William plot and the mechanics of the lore behind the Abhartach plot. One or the other of these seems like it was tacked on to the original short and each feel like they could have been their own individual movies. It wasn’t a bad idea to combine them, but the pacing becomes a problem.
Great performances in heavy Irish brogue might have you turning on the subtitles, but I find movies with this much plot need to be read anyway. And while the words “horror comedy” can often induce eye-rolling to the point of severe injury, up to and including blindness, fret not. Baugh’s script takes on more of a humorous spirit than the incessant filthy-minded wise-cracking wit, playing the funny stuff more dry and naturally. Baugh even seems to go out of his way to set up a blatant homage to An American Werewolf in London only to acknowledge it and then put a proverbial silver bullet into it to make sure we’re all clear that that’s NOT what we’re dealing with.
Light on the gore, mild on the creep, Boys From County Hell suffers from lack of the sensational, but I tend to be a tough crowd, so if disturbing and gooey is your bag you won’t find much of it here. The message isn’t really so much about vampires and how they work as it is about relationships, but I’m not sure what it tries to say different from the obvious, being: make the most with the people you love while they’re here (lest they become the lurching, bloodthirsty undead, then all bets are off).
Boys From County Hell is in UK and Irish cinemas August 6.