The Evil Dead is infamous in the horror community in many ways, but they're not all good reasons; Sam Raimi, the film's director, has gotten a lot of backlash over the years for his inclusion of the film's 'tree rape' scene, and has since spoken out about his regrets.
The scene in the film involves Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), final boy Ash Williams' sister, who ventures out alone in the woods after she and her friends, who have all gathered for vacation at a cabin in rural Tennessee, start to hear strange and disturbing noises. This breaks a lot of horror movie rules, as fans point out, and all but guaranteed something bad was going to happen to her. Even so, the fact that she was attacked by spindly, painful vines and pinned down, then sexually assaulted in graphic fashion was more than anyone deserves.
Even though the scene has become iconic to the film and the franchise, many people consider it to be overtly raunchy and tasteless even though The Evil Dead has an NC-17 rating. To some audiences and critics, it was exploitation in the trashiest way, and could have been included in a lesser form or shot differently to show less and tell more. The Evil Dead was completely banned in some countries, partly due to this scene.
Sam Raimi Spoke Out About His Regrets
The film's director, Sam Raimi, isn't the type to shy away from the inclusion of graphic violence and other subversive content in his movies. He, like many horror directors of the time, knew that audiences liked to see violence and titillating content, as was proven by the success of films like Friday the 13th, with its overt scenes of teenage sexuality, that hit theaters a year before. Halloween also broke ground in this department, showing nudity and sexuality on screen, but Raimi brought violence to the mix in a way that turned a lot of heads and got audiences talking about how The Evil Dead pushed its boundaries.
After audience and fan backlash, along with comments that he was a misogynist throughout the years, Raimi finally openly expressed his regrets about the 'tree rape' scene. Raimi said in an interview: "I think it was unnecessary gratuitous and a little too brutal... my goal is not to offend people. It is to entertain, thrill, scare... make them laugh, but not to offend them... I think my judgment was a little wrong at the time."
The Remake Kept The Scene, But Toned It Down
The 2013 remake, Evil Dead, from director Fede Alvarez kept very true to the original, however, Alvarez had stated he did not want to include the scene that got Raimi so much backlash and a harsh rating from the MPAA in his film. There was no CGI in Alvarez's film, which made people wonder - some for positive reasons, some for negative reasons - whether or not he would actually skip the scene. Alvarez ended up including it via pressure he received from the producer who asked, not so indirectly: "Where's my raping tree?" In Alvarez's version, he includes the scene as more of an allegory for addiction where his lead character, Mia (Jane Levy) watches herself from the outside looking in and experiences the assault as more of an out of body or dissociative episode rather than being so up close and personal. It is still a traumatic scene that leaves Mia violated and possessed, but the gratuitous aspects are shielded from the audience with cleverly placed shots so it's more implied and focused on the actress' face.