The rural Irish village of Six Mile Hill is notable for one reason: a local vampire legend that supposedly inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula. But what happens when the legend… wakes up? That’s the premise for the genial yet gory The Boys From County Hell, written and directed by Chris Baugh.
Like most small towns, Six Mile Hill’s young-adult generation has to make a choice: stick around and do what their parents did, or strike out into the world and start a life somewhere else. Eugene (Jack Rowan), his best friend William (Fra Fee), and William’s girlfriend Claire (Derry Girls’ Louisa Harland) are approaching that horizon, but only William — an ambitious, college-educated sports hero — has plans to flee. Eugene’s renovating an old home on property that’s long belonged to the family of his late mother, while Claire’s working at the local pub — which happens to be called the Stoker and is filled with horror memorabilia, in tribute to a certain Irish author who may have once visited Six Mile Hill and used a bit of spooky local folklore to inform his most famous novel.
The Stoker is also the perfect place for Eugene and William to troll the smattering of tourists who visit Six Mile Hill specifically because of the legend, the truth of which is bolstered by a curious pile of stones, or “cairn,” said to cover the final resting place of Abhartach, the ancient bloodsucking creature that supposedly once terrorised the village. Unfortunately for everyone, the grave just happens to be directly located in the path of a new road being built by Eugene’s gruff father, Francie (Nigel O’Neill) — who’s reluctantly added his son to the construction crew despite their tense relationship, and who has no compunction about destroying the only interesting landmark in town, much less any time for vampire stories.
You can already guess where all this is heading, and while the route The Boys From County Hell takes to get there does indulge in some tropes (including one of my favourites: the realisation that “real” vampires don’t necessarily follow the same rules that “fictional” vampires in books and movies do), it works hard to make you care about its characters. Eugene and Francie have a lot of personal demons they need to plow through before they can face a literal monster together, and though the rest of the townspeople aren’t quite as well fleshed-out, you get a sense of how high-stakes their sudden supernatural crisis is.
Aside from rivers of red stuff, The Boys From County Hell delivers some other gore effects we won’t spoil here, other than to say we’ve never seen a makeshift weapon quite like the one deployed in the final battle, and for that we applaud Baugh’s creative spirit. We also appreciate his wry sense of humour; while the movie does dig into some emotional wounds, it balances that with a fair amount of goofballery, like a fight scene set to the improbably jaunty sounds of Eddie Cochrane’s vintage party anthem “C’Mon Everybody.” However, The Boys From County Hell is not a horror-comedy; it’s more like the characters are able to acknowledge the absurdity of their predicament — “If I’d been under the ground that long, I’d just want to sit in the house and drink as well,” Eugene realises as he’s trying to figure out the location of Abhartach’s blood-guzzling lair — while simultaneously being scared shitless.
The Boys From County Hell’s setting, however, is probably the element that makes it stand out the most from similar vampires-in-a-small-town fare. At times you may long for subtitles — the thick Irish accents, not to mention some of the unfamiliar slang, can be tough to decipher — but that really adds to the sense of Six Mile Hill being a place with its own specific culture, and thousands of years of history, not all of it pleasant, to go with it.
“There are plenty of dead things in the ground around here if you want them,” a character tells Eugene after he shows off a skull he unearthed on his property — and as The Boys From County Hell amply demonstrates, sometimes it takes a dead thing to remind everyone of the reasons worth staying alive.
The Boys From County Hell premieres today on Shudder.