Watch Boys from County Hell in UK and Irish cinemas from August 6th.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin. A lonely hawthorn tree sits on a hill just outside the village of Slaughtaverty, County Derry. But, this lone tree has a devilish story to tell. The tree marks the grave of Chieftain Abhartach, the first Vampire king of Ireland. Abhartach died at some point in the 5th or 6th century, his jealousy and violence at his wife’s alleged affair with a fellow villager leading him to climb to her bedroom window before falling to his death. Abhartach was quickly buried, upright just outside the village, But he was not to go quietly, and the next day he returned from the grave, demanding the villagers’ blood.
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 he asked, only to find Abhartach once more risen from the grave demanding blood.
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Seeking the advice of a local druid, Cathán was told to kill the undead with a sword made of yew before burying him upside down, feet towards the sky, stacking stones on the grave to ensure he could not rise to the surface. But, as he completed the deed, a warning echoed through the village; the stones must never be removed.
This tale may have inspired Bram Stoker long before he went on to write the world-famous Dracula. After all, the origins of the vampire are held just as firmly in Irish folklore as 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. Here Baugh mixes elements of An American Werewolf in London and The Lost Boys with Irish folklore and classic monster horror. The result is not only a mighty craic but a creative reinvention of the vampire on screen.
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Our story starts in the fictional small town of Six Mile Hill, where according to legend, Bram Stoker once stayed for the night. Here it is said Stoker heard the tale of Abhartach before visiting his alleged grave outside of the town, where a pile of stones sit stacked and undisturbed. This is Six Mile Hill’s only actual claim to fame in an otherwise dead-end village where most of its young people dream 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) almost beyond hope. Eugene works for the family construction while dreaming 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.
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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 and transformed the vampire story into one of fragility and seclusion. While these films have injected new life into the vampire through a beautiful mix of drama and horror, I have missed the 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 as Boys from County Hell is everything you could want from a blood-sucking monster picture. Laced with dark humour and jump scares, Baugh’s movie is intelligent, gory and wickedly entertaining. Some may argue that Boys from County Hell neither fully commits to comedy nor horror, but, in truth, that’s a minor quibble in a movie that shines through its fun performances and wicked screenplay.
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Baugh’s movie not only drips with the bloody brilliance of the classic monster movie but does this through a fast-paced gory 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.