We have, happily, moved away from horror’s post-Scream obsession with self-consciousness. Chris Baugh’s agreeable Irish vampire thriller does take a few nods to the classics, but they are fleeting and lightly played.
Early on, a pair of American students arrive in a remote Irish town and speculate about a walk across the moors (a geographical feature we are short on). The unmistakable allusions to An American Werewolf in London are soon waved away. Does the discovery of a skull in the field point us to the great British folk horror The Blood on Satan’s Claw? Probably not.
Boys from County Hell could, however, be read as an unintended variation on a familiar school of Irish cinematic misery. The northern town of Six Mile Hill has little to offer the directionless Eugene (Jack Rowan) or his good friend William (Fra Fee). There is talk of emigration to Australia. Eugene’s father, Francie (Nigel O’Neill), is not impressed by the younger generation. A bypass is about to cause disruption.
If it weren’t for the ancient blood-hungry ghouls – and the lack of a priestly domination – we could be in any number of well-meaning rural mope-outs. Happily for all but the soon-to-be undead, those creatures soon arrive to dismantle the torpor.
Baugh, creator of the admired Bad Day for the Cut, has worked hard at its new mythologies. The film supposes that Bram Stoker modelled bits of Dracula on a viscera-scoffing Six Mile Hill inhabitant named Abhartach, commemorated by a cairn of stone in an unremarkable field. What do you imagine will happen when the memorial is disturbed?
Baugh pitches Boys from County Hell more towards straight-up horror than did comic hybrids such as Shaun of the Dead or the recent Irish film Extra Ordinary. The picture is bursting with genuinely gruesome deaths and moments of eloquently staged tension – even if some are a little too buried in the murk.
The humour comes mainly from the salty dialogue – Brendan Mullin shares writing duties with Baugh – and the fleshed-out performances. Louisa Harland, another alumnus of Derry Girls University, is excellent as William’s unyielding girlfriend. Rowan has the looks for a leading man and the rough-hewn spirit of a rural layabout.
The unreal feels real. The real feels even more real. A decidedly decent slice of bog horror.
Opens on August 6th