"Boys From County Hell" is a great new Irish vampire flick with some surprising heart (and blood)

I've been looking forward to Boys From County Hell for a few years now. For one thing, I'll watch any horror movie named after a Pogues song. In this case, the film also pulled from the same obscure Irish folklore that I used in my (as-yet-unpublished) novel Pints of 'Gansett Make You Strong, so I had to know what was going on. That particular legend involves a blood-drinking beast named Abhartach, who's most famously described as such in The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places:

There is a place in the parish of Errigal in Londonderry, called Slaghtaverty, but it ought to have been called Laghtaverty, the laght or sepulchral monument of the abhartach or dwarf. This dwarf was a magician, and a dreadful tyrant, and after having perpetrated great cruelties on the people he was at last vanquished and slain by a neighbouring chieftain; some say by Fionn Mac Cumhail. He was buried in a standing posture, but the very next day he appeared in his old haunts, more cruel and vigorous than ever. And the chief slew him a second time and buried him as before, but again he escaped from the grave, and spread terror through the whole country. The chief then consulted a druid, and according to his directions, he slew the dwarf a third time, and buried him in the same place, with his head downwards; which subdued his magical power, so that he never again appeared on earth. The laght raised over the dwarf is still there, and you may hear the legend with much detail from the natives of the place, one of whom told it to me.

This has long lead to a rumor that the stories of Abhartach are what inspired another Irishman by the name of Bram Stoker to come up with the idea for Dracula centuries later. (Coincidentally, "droch fhola" means "bad blood" in Irish and is also pronounced like "Dracula," which probably has nothing to do with anything.)

In The Boys From County Hell, writer/director Christopher Baugh takes this folktale and spins it into a unique take on a vampire story that also bleeds with the lifeblood of its geography. Errigal (called Six Mile Hill in the film) is in a remote part of County Derry, where there's really nothing much to do except drink at the local pub, The Stoker, so named because Bram Stoker once supposedly visited the town one time (hence the inspiration). A modern construction project threatens to demolish the pile of rocks under which Abhartach is said to be buried, which has some of the locals infuriated — both because of superstition, and because it's the only damn reason anyone comes to visit their remote town anyway.

These are all fairly standard horror tropes, albeit refreshingly transported into the desolate greenery of northwestern Ireland (western Northern Ireland?), complete with the region's trademark gallows humor. What made the movie stand out for me, however, was the relationships at the heart of it. At the beginning of the film, we're introduced to Eugene, who lives in his late mother's house adjacent to the plot where Abhartach is buried, and his buddy William, who is planning to ditch his girlfriend (Derry Girls' Orlaith, Louisa Harland) and move to Australia to find work. Meanwhile, Eugene has a difficult relationship with his father, Francie, who runs the local construction company that's slated to knock down the evil dwarf's dolmen (and thus making him the enemy of the town). Boys From County Hell uses the simultaneously threats of gentrification and undead fuckery to explore the damaged relationships between these two young men and their parents, and particularly the ways that the expectations of masculinity have affected them in a place where it's just as important to be provincial as it is to be a provider. The only other mild-spoiler I'll give is that, while this is ostensibly a vampire movie, Baugh smartly exploits the zombie movie trope of seeing your loved ones resurrected as mindless, hungry monsters, to fantastic emotional affect.

Boys From County Hell is currently a Shudder exclusive, but if you can also rent it on Amazon Prime (which is basically free if you already have Prime and choose that shipping option that gives you digital credits for slightly-later deliveries). It's a bloody one, and perhaps not quite as comedic as the trailers and reviews make it out to sound, but I recommend it.