Shudder Streaming: Boys from County Hell (2021) - Reviewed



Bram Stoker is arguably one of Ireland’s most famous authors.  Having written Dracula, one of the most influential horror novels ever written, he set the stage for lore that is often depicted in popular culture to this day.  While most horror fans know Stoker’s main inspiration for Dracula was Vlad the Impaler, there’s a local Irish legend about the vampire Abhartach from the 1800s that might have also inspired the author.  

Boys from County Hell takes that rumor and runs with it. The film is set in the town that is said to be the burial place of Abhartach, and revolves around a group of twenty-something-year-old pub-dwellers that guzzle beer at their local haunt “The Stoker.”  Eugene (Jack Rowan) loves to pick up tourists at the pub and take them on Bram Stoker tours to give them a few silly scares, showing them the alleged burial site of their legendary vampire, but when his father Francie (Nigel O’Neill) tasks him with a digging job that topples this ancient cairn, the scares become genuine when they awake Abhartach, who wreaks havoc on their rural town.

For those looking for a traditional vampire tale, you won’t find it here.  The vampires depicted in the film are more like rabid zombies than the romantic vampires we’ve become accustomed to, aligning closer to a portrayal like 30 Days of Night than Interview with the Vampire--they are vicious, animalistic, and mindless creatures who are driven to kill and nothing else.  Many of the traditional “vampire rules” don’t apply here, either--stakes through the heart, crosses, and holy water don’t do too much to hurt them.

More surprising than any of this in Boys from County Hell is the fact that it touts itself as a horror-comedy, but doesn’t tackle either of those genres adeptly.  While the film certainly has some levity, calling it a comedy is quite a stretch, and despite some genuinely frightening scenes, it doesn’t always succeed as a horror film either, basking more in family drama than the vampires themselves.  There could have easily been more laughs with the lively cast of characters we’re shown, and it’s almost begging for a Shaun of the Dead-style treatment.  Instead, we’re shown a tumultuous father-son relationship, strained friendships, and a few vampires every once in a while.  It’s not necessarily bad, but there’s a great deal of untapped potential in the film that could have worked well.

Altered expectations aside, the film does a fine job at developing the characters and the world surrounding them.  Writer and director Chris Baugh manages to pull great performances out of the cast, and despite how rarely we actually see the vampires in action, it’s a fairly fast-paced film with scant scenes wasted.  While the approach is sparse and no-frills with very little stylization to make the film look visually striking for the most part, there’s a few brilliantly creepy scenes of how the ancient vampire is able to terrorize the town en masse, and some genuinely disturbing moments that happen when a familiar face turns into one of the fiendish bloodsuckers.

Boys from County Hell is a good time if you don’t hold your preconceived notions too sacred going into it.  While there were some missed opportunities throughout, it succeeds in giving audiences a somewhat original take on the vampire mythos and insight upon the lesser-known possible inspiration for Dracula.  Without a doubt, this film will be worth your while if you enjoy folk horror and “fast zombie”-style monsters are appealing to you.

--Andrea Riley