By KEVIN HOOVER
The vampire film formula has remained largely unchanged for what seems like forever, but BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL throws a wrench into the works and delivers a horror-comedy with rich dramatic tones that’s fast developed a fanbase. Director Chris Baugh’s willingness to bet on his unique vision has payed off with glowing praise for his film, but his stellar cast is what really brings that vision to life. Stars Jack Rowan (Eugene Moffat), Nigel O’Neill (Francie Moffat), and Michael Hough (SP McCauley) bellied up to the bar to spill their thoughts about working on the Shudder original.
BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL is unabashedly horror with bits of comic relief peppered in for good measure. However, the film focuses its lens on character development and the underlying humanistic qualities of each. How did the authenticity of your individual characters factor into the relationships we see in the film?
JR: With regards to authenticity, it came naturally because I am as much of an idiot as Eugene is! As an actor, I’ve mostly played very dark and slightly sinister characters, so it was a huge release to play someone normal. Eugene is a small-town guy who’s happy with who and where he is. He loves those around him and they love him back, and it definitely shows when he has to defend his pack from an ancient Irish vampire. What better way for him and his father to bond?! The whole situation Eugene and Francie find themselves in make up for all the unspoken words between them. On top of that, my own father is from Northern Ireland, so it’s always been on the bucket list to take the accent I’ve grown up around and cement that on screen.
NO: Francie is just an ordinary man living in this ordinary village and going out to do his day’s work. He has this son and has had to deal with the loss of his wife in his own way. He’s not a man who wears his heart on his sleeve; he tends to bottle up his emotions, and as a result, his frustrations land on those around him, and especially Eugene. That’s not to say he doesn’t love Eugene, he just shows it in strange ways, i.e., punching him out cold so he can protect him against the “William” creature [Fra Fee]. In the final scene, you see father and son helping each other out in this horrific turn of events, and before Francie passes out he tells his son, “Good job, cub.” I particularly enjoyed filming this part as there is so much going on and you can see the real love between them.
MH: SP is kind of casually plodding along through life, but enjoying the plod nonetheless. Like a lot of guys his age in rural Ireland, he just takes each day as it comes and gets on with it. He’s content with his lot in life (although he probably owes money all over town) and isn’t bothered too much one way or another. He’s not a goal driven human; one night he could sink 20 pints and get the shift in the Stoker, and the next he’s fighting vampires with the lads. I think his humour and dry wit are a great counterbalance to the seriousness of the situation the characters find themselves in. SP just can’t help himself and that’s what I love about him: he has this unfiltered, unabashed nature that irks Eugene, Claire [Louisa Harland], and Francie and that’s what he lives for, those secret slivers of pleasure he gets to keep all to himself.
Were there any challenges in working with a hybrid of two very different genres?
NO: Not for me, there wasn’t. Chris [Baugh] has a great way of observing real-life characters, and he and I share a similar sense of humor. When you mix these characters with the crazy horror element, I think they complement each other, like how Francie treats everything just like a day’s work – you know, working on a site using machinery, killing vampires, etc. After that, it’s just a joy to play.
MH: To be honest, this was the most fun I’ve ever had on a set. Obviously, you want to try and hit the correct tone performance-wise, and that can be a challenge depending on who’s captaining the ship, but Chris is so generous and everything just flowed seamlessly. He knows what he wants and he has a vision, but the key is he can communicate that vision while also letting us try things outside the box. He’s also not opposed to a little improv, and kudos to Benny (co-writer Brendan Mullin) and Chris for the way they crafted the script, from the drama to the horror to the comedy. Everything blended really well together, and I think it shows on screen.
JR: I wouldn’t say it was challenging because the cast and crew felt like a big family and everyone was always up for doing anything and everything. It was like a big bunch of friends just having fun, and I feel because of that the comedy element came from a really natural place. From even reading the script before my first audition, I found myself turning the page and imagining how much fun it would be to actually do all the mad action sequences, whether its horror, comedy, or both merged together. It was a pure joy every single day to wake up, go to work, and have fun. Some personal highlights were sliding down a rubbish chute and gliding through a rural Irish village on the front of a dump truck with Nigel O’Neill.
BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL tips its hat to other horror films, including an early reference to the classic American Werewolf in London. Individually, are you horror fans? What are your influences, and heading into this particular film, were there any favorite actors/films/scenes that inspired your performance?
MH: I’m a big lover of the old horror films like The Omen, The Changeling, The Shining, The Lost Boys, The Thing, and many more, all of which have had a huge influence on me growing up. But to be honest, BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL felt so new and fresh that I didn’t need much inspiration.
JR: I’d definitely say I’m a fan of the horror genre, but more of the classic slasher movies like Halloween, Scream, and Friday the 13th. Aside from the occasional jump scare and pure gruesomeness, there’s also an element of fun, and I can’t help but be totally indulged in the cat and mouse game. I find myself not only shouting at the TV because I want to help the characters trying to fight against these deranged madmen in masks, but also to point out how stupid some of their decisions are! I asked our director Chris for a list of movies to watch in preparation, and my favourite by far was Peter Jackson’s Braindead (aka Dead Alive). I loved that movie so much that it’s found its way in to my all-time top 10 and I never fail to bring it up in the whole, “Have you seen this movie?” conversations.
NO: I used to like the old Hammer horror movies from the seventies and eighties. I also like the film From Dusk Till Dawn. I enjoyed the craziness of how one minute everything is going normal, and the next you’re killing creatures. I also like seeing what happens when putting an ordinary group of people in extraordinary situations.
In discussing horror tropes, there are rules that we always consider to be true. A headshot always kills a zombie; for vampires, it’s sunlight, stakes, and garlic. Yet, those rules fail the characters in BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL, and our crew is forced to think on the fly. How do you think that notion helped shape the final product into something that is still familiar to fans, yet uniquely its own take on the vampire mythos?
NO: I think that’s what’s special about our film; Chris and Brendan didn’t want it to be like another vampire movie, so the whole idea of the blood being sucked out the way it does is unique. And the fact you can’t kill it, only trap it with stones is also different. This creates some funny scenes where Francie believes that cutting off the head will do the trick (spoiler: it doesn’t work), so the way these ordinary guys try to deal with the vampire brings out a lot of the humour.
MH: It’s obviously helped a great deal in that we’ve taken something we all know and flipped it on its head. Just the madness of the whole situation, nothing these characters have heard, read in books, or seen in films works in killing these bastards! I do think audiences will see a lot of themselves in the characters and say, “That’s exactly how I would have reacted if a crazed vampire was trying to take a chunk out of me.”
JR: The Moffat & Son crew are just like the viewers, in that we have no idea how to deal with this Abhartach fella! Much like horror fans, we go through the rules one by one and keep getting shut down, so we have to think of our own unique ways to defeat him. Not giving anything away, but with what Eugene eventually uses as weapon of choice, tell me, who needs sunlight, stakes, and garlic?
Considering your individual acting credentials was there ever any apprehension about starring in a horror film, especially one with such copious amounts of gore? When initially approached about the project, was it something that you loved from the outset, or did it take some convincing to get you to sign on?
NO: Since I have known Chris and Brendan, we have always talked about making this movie. When we finally got to do it, we couldn’t wait to get started. The guys really put in the work over the years to get the funding and make it happen, and I admire them for that. We did do a short version of BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL many years ago and that also was a lot of fun, so Francie has been living with me for a long time now, and it was great to explore him in even more depth.
MH: With that script and characters, I didn’t need any convincing. You want me to run around a field being chased by vampires? Count me in! It was such a great opportunity, and I was delighted to just book a damn job. After chatting with Chris, I got a great vibe that it would be a class project to be involved in, plus I live in Toronto, so getting to go back home to Ireland was such a bonus for me. The funny thing was I actually went from working on a building site to pretending to work on a building site! I’ve got to say, Chris and Benny really know how to pick a squad of actors and crew, such top-drawer people to be around. I think the camaraderie built up off-screen between myself, Louisa, Fra, Nigel, Jack, and the rest of the cast really translated onto the screen. I just have one bone to pick with Chris Baugh if I may – he voted against SP wearing this savage, old-school, heavy, dark brown sleeveless leather jacket.