A local tourist attraction becomes a death trap when an ancient evil awakens, forcing a father and son to put aside their differences and face their troubled pasts in Boys from the County Hell, a genre-savvy vampire film from director Chris Baugh.
There’s not a lot for a young person to do in Six Mile Hill. Out of work Eugene (Jack Rowan) and his pals spend nights drinking and days hungover, with the occasional football game to break things up.
Every now and then, they’ll take time out to scare wide-eyed tourists who come to the town to visit the resting place of Abhartach, a vampiric demon said to be the true inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
For Eugene and his friends Will (Fra Fee) and SP (Michael Hough) the cairn is as banal as their own lives. When Will tells a couple of Canadian tourists that there are forces “older than God” beneath the ground it’s all theatrics. Abhartach, like Dracula, is just a story.
So, the prospect of a new bypass cutting through the field and disrupting the cairn isn’t as pressing a concern as, say, Will’s upcoming move abroad in search of the Australian Dream. In a roundabout way, this news of Will’s leaving leads to the resurrection of a vengeful Abhartach.
As work on the bypass moves ahead, Eugene’s father, Francie (Nigel O’Neill), puts Eugene in charge of the dig in an attempt to give his wayward son some much needed direction in life. The dig is quickly disrupted however, when the night watchman, Charlie, a local lush played by Morgan C. Jones, goes missing only to reappear as one of Abhartach’s demonic servants.
Eugene, Francie, SP and Claire (Louisa Harland) have little choice but to fight for their lives against their former workmate, but, as it turns out, killing a vampire isn’t as straightforward as novels and films would have us believe.
The ensuing battle against Charlie is hard-fought, gory and very funny. Baugh directs action with a madcap zaniness, the practical and digital effects by Millennium FX recall the cartoonish horror of The Evil Dead series.
In between stabbing, maiming and crushing Charlie, the group bicker about how to handle the situation and recoil in bemused disbelief when their best efforts fail to finish their former friend.
Baugh’s dialogue is witty without being too showy. All of the major characters are smartarses but not about the situation they’re in. The banter doesn’t nudge and wink at the audience but instead treats the film’s hellish happenings as unforeseen logistical setbacks.
Many standout moments are liberally profane, be it the constant squabbling between Eugene and Francie, or the fearful flow of swear words directed at the undead that want to appease their dark master.
As with the opening scenes of the film there’s a balance between the ordinary and the supernatural that feels coherent because of the consistency of the characters’ dialogue. As such, Baugh can move from heartfelt to hilarious with ease. Later in the film, when an undertaker’s son-turned-vampire is sealed away in the family home’s “good room”, laughter and tears fight for supremacy.
This is particularly evident in the father-son dynamics between Francie and Eugene. Their relationship is strained on account of past tragedy, and the gradual softening of their words and actions towards one another works to such a degree that we can go along with some crazier moments late in the film.
Nigel O’Neill, who appeared in Baugh’s other feature Bad Day for the Cut really steals every scene he’s in. Francie is formidable and cantankerous but ultimately, a sweet and dependable man and father. O’Neill brings gravitas to a role that could come off as one-note if not handled with the utmost care.
And about care, Millennium FX and the make-up artists on the film do great work on the creatures and effects. Films like Boys from the County Hell so often fall down when the monster finally appears and looks silly. I call it Brotherhood of the Wolf-syndrome. You’re on board with the film until you see the bad puppet or CG monster.
Abhartach is no awkward-looking puppet or a computer-generated shape; instead, the vampire is portrayed by Robert Nairne, who looks terrifying in the monster make-up. His performance is unsettling too, moving with an unstoppable purpose toward his victims.
As the film explains, this kind of vampire doesn’t need to bite its victims, it can pull blood from open wounds. There’s one horrible scene featuring some medical stitches popping out of a guy’s neck that I won’t forget in a hurry.
Boys from the County Hell, like other genre-aware horror films, doesn’t wrap up in the expected manner. There’s no Peter Cushing as Van Helsing curtain-pulling to finish the big bad off.
In fact, dialogue late in the film gives a little insight into the various embellishments that other films have added to the Dracula mythos. It’s all in fun, and like its characters, Boys from the County Hell never feels above the material or too precious.
A charming twist on a movie monster that’s been sending shivers down cinemagoers’ spines since the Silent Era.