The One Scene In The Evil Dead Sam Raimi Regrets The Most

(Trigger Warning/Content Warning: Discussions of Graphic Sexual Assault.)

Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead" is a beloved and iconic horror film spawning three films, a reboot, comic books, video games, a stage musical, and a continuation television series. For over 40 years, "The Evil Dead" has remained one of the most universally praised films in horror history, but the film is and has always been far from perfect. No, I'm not talking about the ultra-low budget production value, but rather an infamous and morally questionable inclusion in the film that has tainted its legacy. Raimi has dealt with a continued reign of fallout, as generations of new fans over the years discover the film for the first time and are unprepared for what they're about to see.

The scene in question centers on Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), the sister of Bruce Campbell's Ashley J. Williams, who is immediately freaked out by the events in the cabin in the woods. After hearing strange noises and voices, she journeys out into the forest to investigate, a sure-fire sign that she's about to experience something terrifying. Cheryl doesn't find anything scary, but something scary surely finds her, as she is attacked and brutally (and graphically) assaulted by a deadite-possessed version of mother nature, commonly referred to as "tree rape." The scene has become notorious and during the time of release was heavily responsible for the film's banning in some countries. Fortunately, Sam Raimi regrets the scene's inclusion and in the years since has spoken out to express his remorse.

Why Was It There In The First Place?

"The Evil Dead" came out in 1981, deep in the heart of the slasher craze of the 1970s and 1980s. Horror movies were known for their extreme violence and gore, but also for their titillation. As the insufferable Randy Meeks identifies in "Scream," the first rule of surviving a horror film is that you can't have sex. Obviously there are plenty of films that subvert the trope, but we're talking as a general formula. Don't @ me, bros. Both "Friday the 13th" and "Halloween" were huge successes while containing nudity and sexuality, and with Raimi pushing the blood and gore to almost cartoonish levels, he pushed forward with the sexual violence as well.

Over the years, as our discussions surrounding sexual violence on screen has evolved, plenty of come after this scene in "The Evil Dead," with some even going as far as to call Raimi a misogynist or a rape apologist. However, during an interview with the San Diego Reader back in 2012, he publicly went on record to express his regret:

Well, I think it was unnecessarily gratuitous and a little too brutal. And finally because people were offended in a way that I didn' goal is not to offend people. It is to entertain, thrill, scare...make them laugh, but not to offend them. But, you know, I know that a lot of nineteen year olds that are stealing cars and murdering people. Not to make that comparison, but I think my judgement was a little wrong at that time.

Depiction is Not Endorsement

Coming from a very, very vocal survivor of multiple participant rape ("gang rape" sounds too charged for my comfort level), I will never try to speak on behalf of the survivor community at large, so please understand that my words are coming from my own opinion and not to be taken as the definitive voice. Raimi was certainly not thinking about the depth of gender politics or the nuances of rape culture when crafting this scene, but it's always remained one of the depictions that felt most horrific. Most of the scene is not shot through Cheryl's lens, but from the POV of the Deadite. These moments are the ones that feel most exploitative, but by putting the viewer in the position of the Deadite, the scene feels all the more violating. Cheryl tries to cover her body, and the tree forcibly removes her hand. Nothing about the scene feels titillating, because seeing her from this angle feels, well, icky.

When the actual penetration occurs, the moment is as brutal as Raimi describes it, but it's fast. When the moments flip to Cheryl's perspective, the severity sets in of the genuine horror she's experiencing. To me, the scene has always felt like a metaphor for the way terrorizing marginalized genders is embedded in the very thread of the world around us. However, I know that this was not Raimi's intent, and subscribing to this read is a personal attempt at finding value in something so despicable.

As for its inclusion in the 2013 remake? Unnecessary. Y'all should have known better by then and whichever producer allegedly asked Fede Alvarez "Where's my raping tree?" needs serious therapy.