Watch Boys from County Hell in UK and Irish cinemas from August 6th.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin. On a hill just outside the village of Slaughtaverty, County Derry sits a lonely hawthorn tree. But, this lone tree has a devilish story to tell. Legend has it the tree marks the grave of Chieftain Abhartach, the first Vampire king of Ireland. According to the same tale, a pile of stones once sat under the tree, weighing down the grave of the undead blood fiend who lay beneath. Abhartach died in the 5th or 6th century. His jealousy and violence, linked to his suspicion of his wife’s affair with a fellow villager. A fear that would lead him to his death as he climbed to her bedroom window only to slip and fall.
Abhartach was quickly buried, standing upright just outside the village. But, he was not to go quietly, and the next day he had returned from the grave, demanding the blood of the villagers. Terrified, the villagers did as he commanded, taking blood from their wrists and serving it in a bowl. However, it wasn’t long before the villagers grew weary of this chore and sent for the warrior chieftain Cathán to slay the undead beast. Cathán did what was asked of him, only to find Abhartach once more risen from the grave demanding blood.
Seeking the advice of a local druid, Cathán was told to kill the undead with a sword made of yew wood before burying him upside down, feet towards the sky. There he was to stack stones on the grave to ensure the undead could not rise to the surface. But, as he completed the deed, a warning echoed through the village; the stones must never be removed on fear of Abhartach’s return.
This tale may have inspired Bram Stoker long before he wrote the world-famous Dracula. The origins of the vampire held just as firmly in Irish folklore as they were in Eastern European tales of blood and vengeance. And yet, the Irish roots of the vampire have long remained silent on film. Well, not anymore, thanks to director Chris Baugh who joyously brings the legend of Abhartach to life in his new tongue in cheek horror, Boys from County Hell. Mixing elements of An American Werewolf in London and The Lost Boys with Irish folklore and classic monster horror in the process. The result, not only a mighty craic but a creative reinvention of the vampire on screen.
READ MORE: THE LOST BOYS
Our story starts in the fictional small town of Six Mile Hill, where according to legend, Bram Stoker stayed for one night in the now aptly names Stoker pub. There it is said Stoker heard the tale of Abhartach. His alleged grave, sitting just outside the town under a pile of stones no local would disturb. Of course, this is Six Mile Hill’s only real claim to fame, the otherwise sleepy hamlet a dead-end for most of its young people, many of whom spend the majority of their time in the pub dreaming of escape. It is here we meet Eugene Moffat (Jack Rowan) and his small group of friends, Claire (Louisa Harland), Fra (William Bogue) and Michael (SP McCauley).
Eugene lives in the dilapidated home of his dearly departed mother, his relationship with his father, Francie (Nigel O’Neill), distant and difficult. The family construction company, his only work as he dreams of something bigger. However, things for Eugene are about to go from bad to worse as his father announces plans to build a new road through the site of the sacred grave of Abhartach. Knowing how locals would receive this news, Eugene keeps it under his hat as he drinks away his days in the local pub. But, when tragedy strikes on the way home from a night of drinking, something stirs under the town. And as work begins on the road, an ancient evil rises demanding blood.
READ MORE: ROSE: A LOVE STORY
Over recent years we have seen the vampire movie slowly morph into a far more human story through films such as Rose: A Love Story and My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell it Too. These movies have unpicked the monster horror born from Universal and Hammer and transformed it into a story of fragility and illness. And while these films have injected new life into the vampire through a beautiful mix of drama and horror, I would be the first to say I have also missed the unique monster horror the vampire brings to the cinema. After all, who doesn’t love a tongue-in-cheek, blood-sucking beast tearing its way through a town of innocents?
Well, if, like me, you have missed the monster fun of the vampire flick, you are in for a treat. Boys from County Hell is everything you could want from a blood-sucking monster picture. Laced with dark humour and jump scares that echo An American Werewolf in London, Baugh’s movie is intelligent, gory and wickedly entertaining. The performances, fun, engaging and full of amazing on-screen chemistry. And while some may feel that Boys from County Hell neither fully commits to comedy or horror, this view is, in my opinion, misguided. After all, a horror/comedy need not fall directly on one side of the fence or the other. It is more than possible to create a beautifully written horror where subtle dark comedy threads through each scene. And that is precisely what Baugh’s movie offers us.
READ MORE FROM THE CRYPT HERE
However, even more impressive is the film’s ability to relight the flame of the fun vampire horror. And here, Baugh’s movie not only drips with bloody brilliance but pays homage to the monster flicks of cinemas past while equally creating something rooted in the present. His film, a delightful, enjoyable and fast-paced horror romp through the Derry countryside. One where folklore, literature and horror meet dark comedy and monsters. All washed down with more than a dram of Irish charm.