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Chris Baugh and Brendan Mullin discuss Boys From County Hell
05 Mar 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Boys From County Hell
We caught up with producer Brendan Mullin and writer/director Chris Baugh about filming their upcoming feature Boys From County Hell, which will make its sold-out Irish premiere at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival this Saturday, March 6th.

The Vampire is one of, if not, the most well-known monsters in all of horror cinema. From Nosferatu in 1922 to Universal’s Dracula series in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and from Hammer Horror’s cycle in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s,  all the way up to BBC’s 2020 mini-series, Irishman Bram Stoker’s seminal novel Dracula has had nearly a century of influence on cinematic horror. But what influenced Stoker? One theory is that Stoker was inspired by the irish legend of the Abhratch, an old Irish bloodsucker in the tradition of the Dearg Due or the Néamh Mairbh.  

This is the jumping off point Boys from County Hell, a horror comedy from writer/director Chris Baugh and producer Brendan Mullin (Bad Day for the Cut), based on a story by Baugh and Mullin. 

“It’s fun to take myth and legends like Abhratch and plug them into something like the vampire movie and hopefully put a fresh spin on things,” producer Brendan Mullin told IFTN. “More importantly for us, we think the real fun of it comes out of what the characters in the film make of the myth and their opinions on it.”

Apparently, Stoker, while visiting Six Mile Hill in the 1890s, and having a few pints in the town pub, heard the local legend of a bloodsucker who’s been buried under a cairn of stones for centuries; a story he soon after transplanted to Transylvania with a few changes and without crediting Six Mile Hill as his inspiration. Or at least this is the story young Eugene Moffat (Jack Rowan) and his friends like telling horror-loving tourists as a way to spice up their otherwise dull blue-collar lives. 

“We’re not really coming down on it one way or the other but instead seeing it through their point of view and experiencing the thrills and humour that comes out of that,” Mullin explained.

Boys from County Hell started life as a short back in 2013, but Baugh and Mullin always intended to develop it into a feature. “Chris initially wrote a version or the feature length script before we even set out to make the short, and at that time the reality was, if we were going to get the chance to make it as our first feature, we felt it would be best to have a proof of concept that gives a flavour of what the feature was all about,” Mullin explained.

After we made the short in 2013, we were naive enough to think we would be shooting the feature in 2014!” director Chris Baugh told IFTN. “Thankfully that didn’t happen as I don’t think we would have been ready to tackle such a big production at that stage.”

Mullin and Baugh instead went on to make several other short films followed by their debut feature film Bad Day for the Cut, a film which Baugh feels set them up perfectly for this project. “I think we started to find our voice on BDFTC in terms of trying to create a sense of authenticity of place within the architecture of genre,” Baugh elaborated. “In BDFTC it was a small town Irish revenge story. With BFCH it’s a small town Irish Vampire story. There is definitely a running theme!”

The pair also took a lot of confidence from making BDFTC in terms of learning that limitations such as budget and time constraints doesn’t necessarily have to stifle the ambitions of a project, according to Mullins. “It’s also about surrounding yourself with the right team, getting out of the way and letting them do their jobs. And finally, to trust your instincts as there is no formula.”

This experience was then put into practice on Boys From County Hell (BFCH) with Baugh feeling that they managed to tailor their story to a certain set of budgetary parameters without it necessarily feeling like a compromise. “In BFCH, we were able to create sequences that look and feel bigger than what the budget would suggest and for me this was a natural progression of the things I learned in doing those kinds of sequences on BDFTC; just on a much larger scale!” said Baugh.

The film was due to make its world premiere at Tribeca last year before the event was cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic, instead the film went on to make its world premiere at the prestigious Sitges Festival, which converted to a digital format.

The pair were understandably disappointed but remained positive about the situation when looking at the bigger picture.  “We were disappointed that we didn’t get to screen at Tribeca but honestly that felt like a very minor issue compared to the problems that other people were and still are facing due to covid,” Baugh explained. “Just being selected for Tribeca felt like a great validation for everyone who worked on the movie.” 

“We were delighted to finally premiere at Sitges,” Mullin added. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get to attend the festival due to the pandemic, but it was so great to have it play there and hopefully I’ll get to experience those festivals in the future be it with another project or as a fan.”

Although it is too early to discuss release date with cinemas in Ireland remaining closed for the foreseeable future, the films selection at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival will give Irish audiences’ their first opportunity to see the eagerly anticipated horror-comedy. “It’s an honour to be part of DIFF and I’m excited that Irish audiences get an early sneak peek at the film before it’s released later this year,” said Baugh.

“It’s a fantastic festival,” added Mullin. “There’s something a little extra special about being selected for a festival on these shores and playing to a home audience. 

Boys from County Hell has so far put together a strong festival run with screenings in America and across Europe where it continues to find an enthusiastic audience. “We certainly feel the film’s universal and accessible to audiences everywhere and feel the festival run goes a way to showing that, but it’s certainly a bit more tailor-made for audiences here in terms of the tone and the dark humour of it,” Mullin admitted.

Baugh emphasised the importance of festivals adapting to online formats in an effort to continue their crucial support and showcasing of filmmaker’s work. “I think it’s incredibly important that film festivals continue during covid because even though we can’t get to the cinema, online festivals are continuing the tradition of celebrating and championing new films and new voices,” said Baugh. “I think the industry needs that now more than ever.”

The film has been picked up for North America by AMC’s successful horror-focused streaming platform Shudder. As fans and regular users of the platform, both Mullins and Baugh were elated when BFCH was acquired for North American distribution. “They have a great catalogue of films and continue to add to it week on week, so it’s great the film is going to be part of that,” said Mullins. 

“They understand the genre better than most people and their catalogue gets more exciting every month so I can’t wait for BFCH to join the other great titles on there. I’m very excited,” added Baugh.

Filmed in Northern Ireland, the dark comedy horror stars Jack Rowan (Peaky Blinders), Nigel O'Neill (Bad Day for the Cut, Marcella), Louisa Harland (Derry Girls), Michael Hough (Chapelwaite, Vikings), Fra Fee (Animals, Pixie, Marvel’s Hawkeye), and John Lynch (The Terror, The Secret Garden, Tin Star).

“I see the casting process as one of my most important jobs as a director and I can get a little obsessive about it. With BFCH the chemistry of the ensemble was incredibly important, so I was very lucky to pull together such a fantastic group of actors,” said Baugh.

“Like all our projects we held an in-depth casting process and saw a lot of great young actors and we were very lucky that Louisa, Jack Rowan, Michael Hough and Fra Fee all came in to read and brought so much to their respective characters,” Baugh explained. “Nigel O’Neill was always on board as Francie. Like BDFTC we had written that part especially for him.”

Baugh prides himself on trying to create that sense of authenticity and specificity within a framework of heightened genre, and this is a reason for why he continues to collaborate with O’Neill again and again. “Nigel has that truth built in,” said Baugh. “He understands the world we are trying to create and always elevates it every time we work together. He also instinctively gets the tone and humour we are going for, whilst bringing a warmth and empathy to it. Whether he’s an avenging farmer or a beleaguered vampire killing road contractor, I always believe him 100%!”

Post-production on the film was done in the Republic of Ireland with a mix of NI and ROI crew, including DOP Ryan Kernaghan, Production Designer John Leslie, Editor Brian Philip Davies, Costume Designer Triona Lillis, First AD Craig Kenny, stunts by Brendan Condren, and SFX from Bowsie Workshop and Millennium FX.

Executive producers are Katie Holly for Blinder Films, Brian Kavanagh Jones and Rian Cahill for Automatik in the US. Co-producer is Katy Jackson. The film was supported by Endeavor Content and Screen Ireland

Boys from County Hell is due to release later this year.

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