Shudder presents a wild Irish tale of bloodsuckers and brawling mayhem.
The Pogues song about drunken hooligans causing mayhem, “Boys From The County Hell”, doesn’t have much in common with this short and nasty Irish vampire film besides the title. That’s until you get to the eyebrow raising lyric, “We’ll eat your frigging entrails and we won’t give a damn.” Ditto for this movie.
Shudder has been doing an admirable job offering international horror films, and they’ve found a winner from across the pond with Chris Baugh’s inventive and heartfelt take on the vampire genre. Steeped in Irish folklore, the film takes place in an idyllic town in Northern Ireland named Six Mile Hill. It’s home to The Stoker, a pub named after the Dracula author, who may have gotten inspiration for his classic novel after visiting the nearby grave of an infamous vampire, one the locals affectionately call “that evil old whore named Abhartach.”
One of the regulars of the pub, Eugene Moffat (Jack Rowan), isn’t exactly a hooligan like in the Pogues song, but he’s a young man drifting through life, stuck in this small town following the tragic death of his mother. Meanwhile, his best friend, William (Fra Fee), has dreams of jetting off for Australia, leaving his drinking buddy behind. Additionally, Eugene’s on the outs with his hard-bitten father, Francie (Nigel O’Neill), who’s also struggling with the death of his wife.
It’s this foundation of a father and son story that’s able to ground the film amidst all the bloody carnage. It’s a similar relationship that Edgar Wright utilized between Simon Pegg’s Shaun and his step-father, played by Bill Nighy, in Shaun of the Dead that helped his debut go from a hilarious zombie film to something more substantial. Boys isn’t as funny or fully realized as Shaun, but it takes enough lessons from that film to make it hold its own.
The performances of Rowan and O’Neill help sell the dynamic between the characters. As Eugene, Rowan brings a deer-in-the-headlights innocence that serves the role. In one scene, Eugene’s father walks in on him taking a shower. Eugene responds by quickly covering himself with a towel, but also covers his chest with his hands like a little kid being picked on in the gym shower.
O’Neill has the difficult father character type down to perfection. He’s gruff whether he’s chopping the head off a vampire or when his son attempts to bond with him on any level. By the time he mumbles to Eugene, “Grand job, Cub.”, it’s the closest the film gets to being genuinely moving.
The other element that runs through the film (and is a central theme of the original Dracula novel as well) is modernity. While the rapid changes brought on by the Victorian Age interested Stoker in his time, the destruction of small communities thanks to un-checked industry concerns the filmmakers here. Eugene’s father owns a construction company that receives a contract to start building a massive new road that cuts directly through the pastoral countryside of Six Mile Hill. Inevitably, in the process of digging up the ground, they accidentally release Abhartach from his grave, who promptly unleashes mayhem upon the town.
Shudder has been doing an admirable job offering international horror films, and they’ve found a winner from across the pond with Chris Baugh’s inventive and heartfelt take on the vampire genre.
Once the killing starts, the innovative vampire effects is the film at its blood-soaked peak. At this point, we’re all used to vampire schtick. They bite the neck. The poor soul turns into a vampire. The process repeats. Boys introduces a novel concept that I haven’t seen before. When Abhartach is near, and the blood starts to flow, it literally flows. Ole’ Abby doesn’t even have to bite his victims because he acts like a vacuum for their life juice, forcing the blood to come out of every orifice (and with a brutal moment when the town cop urinates, I mean every orifice). It’s striking horror imagery, perfectly executed by the UK special effects company Millennium FX. They’re the kind of images that stick in the brain and will probably come out to say “hello” in future nightmares.
The film doesn’t pull any punches. Characters die horrible, agonizing deaths. Buckets of blood are spilled. Following the romanticism of Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive and the absurd hilarity of the What We Do in the Shadows (the film and FX series), it’s a refreshing change of pace for Baugh to remind us that vampires are terrifying, disgusting creatures of darkness who want our blood. That Pogues song is never used in the film, but one of its final lyrics sums up everything we need to know about how this movie sees vampires as unavoidable specters of death:
Stay on the other side of the road
‘Cause you can never tell
We’ve a thirst like a gang of devils
We’re the boys from the county hell
Boys From County Hell premieres on Shudder April 22nd.