*** Warning: Spoilers, Horror & Antics of The Notorious Masked Killers***
Having already created such excitement and screams with his collection of short horror films, North East film-maker Dean Maynard is showing no signs of slowing down, as he begins work on the his brand new production which is due for release later this year. With many wondering where he will take the narratives of the notorious Rag Dolly and her nemesis Eve Valentine next, it is also a great opportunity to really reflect on the franchise so far.
Normally a coward when it comes to horror films myself, my first helping of Dean’s films came in the form of Valentine’s Eve 2, which was released in February 2021. However, like any film fan will tell you, in order to get a real understanding for the characters you need to watch all of the films otherwise you will be like that poor soul in the cinema who watches the very last Harry Potter or the very last Star Wars movie without any knowledge of the story which came before (and yes hands up, many moons ago, I was that guy haha)!
So deciding I needed to top up my knowledge of Rag Dolly and Eve Valentine, not just so I can prepare myself for the brand new instalment later this autumn, but also you never know when the question may pop up on an episode of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, I thought too myself – Thushara lock the door, make yourself comfortable and lets get ready to explore the world of these powerful characters.
The first part in this franchise is Rag Dolly Returns, which was released in 2019. The way that this introduction has been presented is actually quite clever, as we are met by Dean himself. At first, I was thinking aww ain't that nice, he wants to thank people for supporting the film. HOWEVER he has more pressing matters on his mind. The filming of Rag Dolly Returns is underway, but members of the community have alarmed at various sightings of Rag Dolly, which has spooked a lot of people, and more importantly been a cause of concern for the chief inspector.
What I really love about this film is the ‘investigative’ approach to the narrative which Dean is taking which makes it almost like a fusion between Murder She Wrote vs one of those shows you sometimes see on the True Crime Channel – less sinister of course but equally more jumps, horror and screams. I am not going to lie, even though you don’t see Rag Dolly herself, the accounts of the different people who have spotted her are eerie enough to leave you feeling spooked out. If you are watching the film home alone at night, with the floorboards creaking and the radiators making those unusual sounds, try not to look in the mirror because the last thing anyone wants is Rag Dolly herself glaring right back at you!
From Rag Dolly Returns we move on next to Valentines Eve, which was released in February 2020, just in time for Valentine’s Day. How romantic I hear you say. Imagine someone with no prior knowledge of the franchise seeing this on the cinema listings thinking, ahhh the perfect rom com for to snuggle up and watch with my significant other. Oh deary me, how wrong you will be, because while the film starts with a romantic and loved up vibe to it, it isn’t long till the atmosphere diverts to something a little bit more chilling.
While our first character is waiting patiently for her special someone to join her for some romantic drinks in the pub, wondering what is causing them to be late, the unsuspecting lady is seen looking around the pub, but with one wrong turn and her back turned little does she know that the pitter patter coming up behind her are the footsteps of the deadly Eve Valentine. The screen goes black and all we hear are the chilling sounds of Eve’s trusty blade.
The camera then goes to another part of the pub, where things feel a lot more relaxed, but two ladies are speaking to each other about if they are not scared about staying in the hotel given, with one saying ‘it should be fine, as long as we don’t bump into Eve’, resulting in her friend asking ‘Eve? Who is She?’. An innocent question you may think, but ah if you don’t know who she is, trust me I wouldn’t advise making any wrong moves or asking any silly questions, because that is the kind of stuff that can make you the next target. And so that is exactly what we see as one by one Eve is working her through all the intruders of West Manor, stabbing them in the back with her lethal dagger like there is no tomorrow! Never in all my life have I screamed at the screen so much, because with this film having me on the edge of my seat, all my neighbours can probably hear is me shouting the words ‘SHE’s BEHIND YOU, RUN MOFO’.
As the film draws to a close, in a very clever plot twist, giving a hint of what to possibly come in the future, hotel manageress Chloe, played by Sam Lavery gets a knock on her door, and when she looks down at the carpet outside of her room, she sees a suspicious looking space with a tag on the handle labled ‘Rag Dolly’, and hearing a noise in her room, when she looks again the spade is gone. Sam’s character walks back into the room, cautiously opening a drawer to take out a mask. The first teaser of the identity of the notorious knife wielding killer Eve Valentine revealed – cue the credits! Wow what a way to end a film on a cliff hanger! There were laughs, there were several screams, a few hundred OMG moments and best of the excitement of knowing that this is just the beginning for Eve Valentine so watch this space!
We have already got a good look at Eve Valentine, but what about Rag Dolly? Well thankfully in The Rag Dolly, viewers get the first glimpse of this illusive and mysterious person who has got everyone on tenterhooks ready to jump out of their skin at the slightest sound they hear. With four deaths reported on the news, the people of Willington are assuming that this may be the handy work of Rag Dolly, with police advising residents to be cautious.
Unlike Eve Valentine who is more your nocturnal kind of killer, for Rag Dolly – day or night, indoors or outdoors she will show no mercy. Hearing the sound of a twig, a father sends his daughter to go an investigate, teasing her about Rag Dolly coming to get her, but foolishly claiming ‘it’s day light, you have nothing to be worried about’, the worst advice you can be told especially when there is a killer on the loose.
The film continues with Rag Dolly and her spade being spotted in numerous places, and with fatalities on the rise, the chief inspector has no option to call a press conference with the local media, all of whom are eager to find out what is happening and most of all what the authorities are attempting to do to stop the Rag Dolly from causing more terror. If you want to find out more then you are just going to have to watch it for yourself, but what really excited me about the ending of this film is with now two killers on the loose, it is a matter of time before these two masked rivals come face to face.
The films up to now have all helped in piecing together the different parts of this gripping franchise, so with a showdown on the cards, I was intrigued to see how director Dean Maynard would unite the stories behind both characters into the same film, so I was thoroughly looking forward to sinking my teeth into Dolly Vs Eve.
The film starts at West Manor, the stomping ground of Eve Valentine. A very rude and moody customer has checked in to the hotel for the night, a little abrupt like those really annoying people you sometimes see on an episode of Four In A Bed. Wanting to make sure that customer is able to have a positive experience, the hotel manager Chloe (I will leave it to you to connect the dots), knocks on the customer’s hotel door to apologise for the earlier inconvenience, only to be faced with more unnecessary rudeness with the customer slamming the face in her door because she has not brought him his room service items.
A knock on the door again, and the customer even more unnecessarily hostile, opens the door giving it the lip but this time being faced with Eve Valentine and her blade of vengeance. My automatic reaction – how about that for room service you ungrateful muppet! In that split second you almost see a human side to Eve’s character, where she has a caring heart to want to check if people are ok, but any glimpse of giving her a bit of lip and bad manners, then she won’t think twice about subjecting you to the wrath of Eve Valentine’s blade.
Now given what we know about Eve Valentine and Rag Dolly in previous films, it would be easy to assume that Eve would be the free-spirited one out of the pair, but what I quite like from the watching Dolly Vs Eve, Dolly has a bit of an edge to her too, as we see Dolly toying with the mind of Eve, which leaves alter-ego Chloe screaming in frustration and anger! In that moment a smile comes to my face because this is a more mischievous side to Rag Dolly that I actually quite like!
With the authorities becoming even more determined to track down Rag Dolly to face justice for the spike in deaths the local community have faced, Rag Dolly has much more pressing priorities on her mind as the moment we have all been waiting for its time for the cat and mouse games to end and for the two killers to finally face each other for a full on fight! Having got hold of her rival’s spade, we see Eve Valentine using Rag Dolly’s own weapon against her, as she try’s everything in her power to defend herself. With Eve being quick on her feet, the battle is soon over as with a venomous lunge of the spade, Rag Dolly is down on the floor – game over! Or is it?
Eve Valentine may be notorious and have a lot of confidence, but one thing she didn’t count on, is that when it comes to bringing her A game, Rag Dolly has her own aces up her sleeve too, so you best not get complacent Eve because your enemy hasn’t even begun. Walking away thinking that she had put an end to her enemy, Eve turns around in shock to see Rag Dolly picking herself up off the floor, now with the spade back with it’s rightful owner, with the pair now head to head, and now Rag Dolly finally being seen as having had the upper hand. The Chief Inspector steps into the room determined to detain Rag Dolly, not realising that he would find Eve Valentine. Distracted by the presence of the chief inspector, in a desperate attempt to not lose the fight with Rag Dolly’s back turned, Eve reaches for a blade ready to stab her rival, only to shot herself by the bullets of the police officers surrounding the property outside.
Thinking quickly on her feet, so she herself doesn’t get caught, Rag Dolly takes a hostage and is seen leaving the scene, as she returns to her place of refuge giving us the impression that now her arch nemesis is no more, her days of taking lives are over, where she is able to disappear off radar with not a trace to be found. This has certainly been one of my favourite films of the franchise so far because there were so many twist and turns in this plot that I had not been expecting, which left me questioning, ok Eve Valentine may be the Queen of the Blade, but if there if you had to choose sides, then just maybe Rag Dolly is the way to go!
However dear friends, if the art of horror genre has taught me anything, especially if you remember Dean is the one producing these fantastic films, is that you should never assume, which is why when Valentine’s Eve 2 was released earlier this year, I was filled with a rush of adrenaline and suspense to hear that contrary to what we say in Dolly vs Eve, after a year of being off radar and assumed to be dead, Eve Valentine is back and more determined to seek vengeance for all those who stood in her path. So who know’s what will happen when the pair next meet later this year.
Having spent a good few days really investing my time in watching all the films from this franchise so far, I am extremely impressed at how much Dean Maynard has been able bring his own creative flare to a genre that he has always been inspired by, and given it his own special edge. Watching all of these films as a collective, has really helped me to get a grasp for both characters, their individual narratives and also where their two worlds meet.
Based on the five films that are currently out at the moment if I had to rank them in a particular order I would say:
5th Place: The Rag Dolly
4th Place: Valentines Eve
3rd Place: Valentine’s Eve 2
2nd Place: The Rag Dolly Returns
1st Place: Dolly Vs Eve
The way I have based my rankings have nothing to do with the quality of the films, as they are all fantastic and were thoroughly enjoyable in their own way. For me therefore these rankings were more on the basis of how much I screamed, how much I cheered, and the remarkable ways the cast and crew behind these films put a novice horror fan such as myself on the edge, excited to see more.
Having watched all 5 films in order, not have I only been drawn into the world of these two menacing evil heroines, but it has left me with more answered questions. Who should the Chief Inspector fear more? Will the locals ever be safe again? And more importantly with the true identity still unsolved, will anyone ever be able to track down the whereabouts of Rag Dolly ever again?
It is only a matter of time when we will all be able to finally see the much anticipated 6th film in this collection, so until then you have a choice to make – Knife or Spade? Choose wisely because the last thing you want is a Rag Dolly or Eve Valentine coming to get you! Mwahahaha!
Article By Thushara