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SITGES 2020

Review: Boys from County Hell

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- In Chris Baugh’s film, the bar is packed with local weirdos who con unscrupulous tourists wishing to pay a visit to the legendary tomb of a local vampire. Fancy a pint?

Review: Boys from County Hell
Jack Rowan in Boys from County Hell

The best thing about the people who fervently flock to the International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, which unspools every October – and has done for 53 years – in the coastal town of Sitges, is that they are by no means averse to laughter, the fun they have is palpable, and there is certainly no lack of booing and jeering when they’re around. The rural-set production Boys from County Hell [+see also:
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by Chris Baugh, staged by Ireland and the UK, which took part in Sitges’ Panorama Fantàstic section, follows in these same jovial footsteps, to mixed results.

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That's because, try as it might, the screenplay that the filmmaker has written together with Brendan Mullin – who previously teamed up seven years ago for the short film of the same name, and three years ago for the feature Bad Day for the Cut [+see also:
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– does not attain the same level of originality as An American Werewolf in London by the masterful John Landis, which warned backpackers against taking midnight strolls on the moorlands under a full moon. Nor does it reach the intensity of the uncontrollable guffaws generated by Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, one of the pinnacles and probably the biggest trailblazer of zombie comedy. Nevertheless, Boys from County Hell – starring Jack Rowan, Nigel O’Neill and Louisa Harland, who clearly had an absolute riot while filming it – attempts to do all of this and sometimes gets it right, but not always.

The plot unfolds in an Irish town where the one and only Bram Stoker, the father of Dracula himself, downed a couple of pints in the local pub. True or not, a clutch of gullible tourists rock up in this remote corner of the globe with a burning desire to do likewise and, while they’re at it, visit a pile of stones that, the locals assure them, is the tomb of a very ill-tempered vampire – aren’t they all? But one night, when this accursed bloodsucker is accidentally awoken, the town will cease to be a boring wasteland and be plunged into a bloody nightmare, where a father who has never given so much as a hug will have to fraternise with his offspring in the fight against evil.

Baugh and Mullin take full advantage of these circumstances to trundle out gags in a film with myriad action scenes, where it proves crucial to know how to kill a vampire – because, just maybe, those stakes that we’ve all seen in the Hammer horror films might not be enough, and perhaps the sun won’t cause them to crumble after all, like it did to Christopher Lee. With some deafening heavy-metal music providing the soundtrack to its most outrageous moments – and it does indeed have some – in amongst all the mischievousness, Boys from County Hell allows us to catch glimpses of fleeting environmental messages and jokes about the robust character of people from rural Ireland.

Boys from County Hell was produced by Belfast-based outfit Six Mile Hill Productions and co-produced by Ireland’s Blinder Films, in conjunction with Egg Studios and Inevitable Pictures.

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