Irish/U.K. production Boys from County Hell (2020) is a smart, fun approach to putting a new spin on vampire films. Playing with tropes on how vampirism spreads, how these undead attain the human blood on which they feed, and how they can or can’t be killed, the film manages to make satisfying, acceptable alternatives to such things as stakes through the heart while delivering a suspenseful story with dark comedy and a good deal of pathos.
Workshy Eugene Moffat (Jack Rowan) is too broke to buy his own drinks at the local pub The Stoker and prefers, with the help of his friends, startling international visitors in search of the stone site of a local vampire legend to performing labor. When an unpopular construction project led by Eugene’s father Francie (Nigel O’Neill) threatens to wreck the site, it causes rifts between the two and a neighboring family as well as the rest of the village. Once the site is demolished, a vampiric presence begins its reign of terror on the hapless locals.
Writer/director Chris Baugh respectfully plays with elements of the vampire genre of both film and literature, finding new ways to breathe life into his movie so that it is not just another tired variation on familiar themes. The ensemble cast is terrific, and the chemistry between Rowan and O’Neill as a son and father in a troubled relationship is a standout factor. Unlike many horror comedies, Boys from County Hell focuses more on fright-fare aspects than humor, although it certainly serves up its share of amusing scenes and lines. The special effects are well conceived, and the creature design for the vampire Abhartach (Robert Nairne) is delightfully creepy.
Taking a deadly serious approach to matters is director Terence Krey’s two-hander An Unquiet Grave (U.S.A., 2020), an unsettling supernatural tale about a widower named Jamie (Jacob A. Ware) suffering with grief who attempts to resurrect his wife from the dead one year after her demise in a car accident. He talks her identical twin sister Ava (Christine Nyland) into assisting him, and as readers well-versed in horror films might guess, things do not go according to plan.
Krey, who cowrote the screenplay with Nyland, invests the film with a heavy sense of dread and the macabre throughout. He is assisted by gripping performances from Ware as a deeply troubled, psychologically damaged man driven to despicable acts and Nyland as a woman who goes through a traumatic experience and has a difficult time coming to grips with Jamie’s occult ritual and its results.
An Unquiet Grave gives viewers plenty to chew on regarding not only grief and loss but also about male control. It does so in a disquieting, often claustrophobic, and always mesmerizing manner, with occasional body horror at play along with the film’s supernatural elements. Those who enjoy quiet, character-study, independent horror films such as A Dark Song (2016) and They Look Like People (2015) should find An Unquiet Grave to be a fascinating watch.
Boys from County Hell and An Unquiet Grave screened as part of Nightstream Film Festival, which ran from October 8-11, 2020.