Abhartach should be as famous as Dracula, yet for some reason the Irish vampire who predates Dracula hasn’t gotten as much love over the years. In director, Chris Baugh’s film, Boys from County Hell, Abhartach’s grave becomes a point of contention when the locals want to keep the cairn as a tourist attraction, while the government wants to knock it down for construction. The film is already streaming on Shudder, but Baugh kindly answered some of our questions about it over email:
Rachel Bellwoar: Boys from County Hell began as a short film in 2013. When did you start throwing around the idea of expanding it?
Chris Baugh: We actually had a version of the feature script before we made the short. We made the short as a proof of concept and expected people to give us a load of money for the feature right away. Thankfully that didn’t happen as I don’t think we would have been ready to tackle the feature at the point. It also gave us time to go off and develop the script further and make our first feature, Bad Day for the Cut, and after that we were ready to make the feature version of Boys From County Hell.
RB: Was there anything you learned while filming the short film that helped or changed your approach to filming the feature?
CB: The best thing we discovered on the short was Nigel O’Neill who ended up playing Francie in the feature — and starred in Bad Day for the Cut.
RB: When did you first hear about the legend of Abhartach?
CB: That was something that I just stumbled across in the research process for the script. I thought it was a great jumping off point for an interesting and different spin on the vampire mythos and something that felt organic to Ireland.
RB: Why do you think it’s taken the rest of the world so long to catch on to this possible predecessor to Dracula?
CB: I’m not sure. There’s not a lot of information out there for people to go on, but hopefully our movie will give him a little more time in the spotlight!
RB: In terms of the film’s structure, what made you want to start in media res, with a scene set two months earlier?
CB: We felt that scene with Pearl and Elliot really set the right the tone for the film and would capture the imagination of the audience right away and make a promise that there is more carnage coming!
RB: There’s a lot of great comedy in this movie but it also deals with grief in a very serious way. How was it finding the right balance or tone?
CB: To a certain extent it is very instinctive, and I just have to write and shoot in a way that feels interesting to me and hope that the audience connects with it. I just try to create characters that feel real and authentic to that world and then let the humour evolve from their reaction to overwhelming horror.
RB: Music plays a big part in some of the comedy scenes. Could you talk a little about the music selection and what that process was like?
CB: It’s a lot of fun sitting in the edit and trying to find the musical personality of the movie. We wanted the songs to feel organic to the environment, like everyone had their own different taste. So, Francie is into older rock and roll and always has that playing in the van. The owner of the Stoker loves hair metal but also the Saw Doctors! It just comes from trying stuff out that feel true to the world of the story. The editor, Brian Philip Davis, actually came up with one of the key musical moments in the film and surprised me with it in the rough cut and it was just perfect. I won’t spoil it, but it involves an Eddie Cochran song.
RB: One of the films Boys from County Hell plays homage to a lot is An American Werewolf in London. That includes using makeup over visual effects for the vampires. Was that something you knew from the very beginning you wanted to do?
CB: The makeup and effects were inspired by ’80s horror in general, in that I wanted to do everything in camera and for real. For the most part we achieved that. However, in the opening I did want to pay homage to American Werewolf in London, which I love. That movie opens with the main characters as outsiders coming into the small town and meeting the strange locals. With our movie I wanted to make it very clear from the outset that the small town locals ARE the main characters.
RB: Since this is mentioned in the trailer, the way you become a vampire in this movie isn’t by being bitten but by being scratched by a stone from Abhartach’s grave. This changes the whole balance of power in this movie because it’s not just vampires who can use the stones. How much of the mythology in this movie comes from the Abhartach legend and how much did you come up with from scratch, and how does it feel to contribute to the Dracula legend (or, should I say, Abhartach legend)?
CB: I definitely used the Abhartach legend as a jumping off point and then tried to add to it in a way that felt organic and fun. The idea of stones holding a certain level of power or infection comes from old Irish ghost stories and it felt right to incorporate it into our own unique mythology in the world of the movie.
RB: Last question: what are some of your favorite, go-to vampire movies?
CB: I saw The Lost Boys, From Dusk til Dawn and Bram Stoker’s Dracula when I was way too young and they all had profound effect on me. In recent years I am a massive fan of Jim Mickle’s Stake Land.
RB: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us, Chris!
Boys from County Hell is streaming now on Shudder.