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Horror doesn’t come with rules, but it’s fair to say there can be bare minimums. If the monstrous force on the poster is going to be one of the classics, at least make it pop out in a surprising way. If the story is going to be about a certain band of characters facing such a menace, at least make them a little distinct. And if your movie involves some boozy Irish pranksters finding out about a long buried vampire corpse, at least make it a good time. “Boys from County Hell” pushes back on these tried-and-true guidelines, and it’s the kind of Shudder movie of the week that doesn’t give back to its audience, so much as drain them.
Things don’t start off with much promise in “Boys from County Hell,” and they don’t get better as they go along. But it’s not for sake of trying, as it has virtually two introductions that show elderly people suddenly bleeding from the eyes while watching TV, and then a trio of Irish ruffians pranking Canadian tourists with an ominous pile of rocks, thought to be related to a history that inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula. The tourists are immediately frustrated, but locals Eugene (Jack Rowan), William (Fra Fee), and their burly buddy SP (Michael Hough) are satisfied, mostly because there’s nothing else to do in this part of Ireland. Joke all you want, but that mini-tower of jagged rocks is the most intriguing thing about this movie, ominously sitting in the field as Eugene’s father Francie works with his company to smash it down and turn it into a bypass. Little does anyone know what's underneath.
Baugh has numerous pliable story elements here, but the filmmaking lets them fall apart—the opening prank has the comedic wind-up of a walk in the woods, and like many other passages it mostly exists to dump exposition with heaps of clumsy ADR (dialogue recording for faraway or off-camera character moments that might as well be voiceovers). The first half of the movie is a slog, and that doesn’t change too much when William is suddenly killed by the rocks in an albeit surprising and gruesome way. But it’s a start, because at least that brings the story’s vampire elements to surface, after being buried under aforementioned charismatic rock pile an unknown amount of centuries ago. The film’s slim and bland cast of road workers (including Eugene’s friend and coworker Pauline [Andrea Irvine]) is then attacked by a bloodsucking force that diverges from Stoker’s famous Count Dracula when it comes to the rules. All of it is not the least bit eerie, though Baugh winds up a couple of surprising moments where things abruptly slam into frame. And despite all the drinking and even a designated burly sidekick who seems designed for jokes about such nature, it’s plainly not funny.
Instead, “Boys from County Hell” feels the need to prove its emotional chops, leaning into the effect of this loss, and later on the tense relationship of Eugene and his father Francie (Nigel O’Neill). There’s a big gap between them, left by the passing of their mother, and Francie is too much of a broken macho man to fix it with even a hug. Both take up a considerable amount of the script’s pages, but the development is too flat to be wrenching; the same goes for when it turns out there's more emotional pain to squeezed from William's part of the story. Baugh thinks that treating a living dead issue with overt grief will give his story more dimension, but the tonal pivot is as much of a buzzkill as daylight.
Vampire stories can be so rote that it’s noticeable when the rules are even slightly changed, and that's when “Boys from County Hell” shows a little spark. But this is more the clear case of a horror movie that forgets to have fun. It’s got vampires and spontaneous blood orifice fountains and slight subversions to the vampire hunting game, and yet those qualities are underwhelming too. Perhaps most damning is when it uses Dokken’s song “Dream Warriors”—the best of all “Nightmare on Elm Street” theme songs, and a practically Pavlovian indicator that awesomeness is nigh—both way late in the game and for a scene that hardly means anything. How do you get the rights for “Dream Warriors” on your soundtrack and then treat it like elevator music? “Boys from County Hell” finds a way.
Now playing on Shudder.
Jack Rowan as Eugene Moffat
Nigel O'Neill as Francie Moffat
Louisa Harland as Claire McCann
Michael Hough as SP McCauley
John Lynch as George Bogue
Fra Fee as William Bogue
Morgan C. Jones as Charlie Harte
Andrea Irvine as Pauline Bogue