Warning: This post includes major spoilers from Evil Dead and one NSFW photo.
Despite all of Evil Dead’s great strides for strong female characters, there’s one glaring element standing in its way: the famous tree rape. Sam Raimi’s original film included a torturous first encounter between a young, beautiful woman and a demon-infested tree. In the graphic scene, the plant brutally strips her of all her clothing and violates her. Director Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake tries to soften the brutality of the original, but as it turns out, there is no such thing as lesser degrees of tree rape.
The sad fact is that the remake almost made it to screen without resurrecting this black mark on the Evil Dead legacy, but one anonymous producer insisted it be worked back into the plot according to a 2012 interview with Alvarez on io9.
“This is not a classic being remade by a big studio, it’s still his film. It’s the guys from the original. I didn’t write one scene and [the producer] asked “where’s my raping tree?” So *types on the table and whistles* raping scene, there you go. But it has to be way more terrible than the original.”
What’s sadder is that this producer may have been right. Back in October of 2012, at New York Comic Con, where the first footage of the remake was being debuted, the rabid fans were uproarious when star Jane Levy teased that the infamous tree rape would in fact make it into the final cut. It was a reaction that merited a furrowed brow at the very least: Nothing about the idea of subjecting another female character to the atrocities of the first tree assault seems worth cheering for. If anything, these people should have been gasping for some small breath of air strong enough to erase the thought of something so horrible coming back for a second round. Instead, they were jubilant.
Evil Dead fans apparently needed the reprisal of actress Ellen Sandweiss’ heart-shrinking terror. The 1981 cut of her character Cheryl having her white, virginal robe ripped from her attractive frame as vines tickled her inner thighs, caressed her exposed breast, and spread her unwilling legs before one oppressively large branch penetrated her as violently as possible wasn’t enough. They needed Levy’s Mia to experience the same terror too for the remake to be faithful.
It’s clear Alvarez did all he could to lessen the blow of the apparently essential scene in which Mia becomes possessed. Mia is hoisted up in the branches of a tree and bruised and lascerated by the vines but keeps her clothing and some of her dignity. Where the original took more time to hyper-sexualize Cheryl by stripping her down and capturing her from pornographic angles, Mia’s torture is significantly less about making her a sexual creature and more about showing the demon possessing her as a violent, immovable force.
Still, by the time the scene has reached completion, vines again pull Mia’s legs apart and make way for an over-sized branch to invade her vagina almost as violently as the oppressive branch in the 1981 original. While the scene may take steps to lower the sexual nature and heighten the element of possession, the use of Mia’s private parts as the entry point makes it inherently sexual. Bottom line: It is still a very deliberate and disturbing rape scene.
It may be the film’s biggest plot changes that allow the scene to have something of a purpose in opposition to the original’s gratiutious, misogynistic scene. Mia being violated — mind, soul, and quite literally body — lends an element of revenge to her plight in the final, blood-drenched scene in the film. Not only is she surviving by taking a chain saw to her tormenter, not only is she exacting her rage for losing her brother to this evil, she’s fighting back against that being which attacked her in a very personal way. In a sense, it gives the film a bit of an air of Kill Bill Part 1, in which Uma Thurman’s character exacts bloody revenge on the attackers who raped her, and less of a senselessly violent, pornographic encounter with little point that we saw in the original Evil Dead.
Still, there’s little to indicate that Mia’s triumphant violence at the end of the film would have played out any differently had she become possessed by some less sexual invasion. Had she ingested the branch that led to her possession rather than having it freely enter her most private parts, would she not have still been left standing in blood rain with a severed hand and a chainsaw? Would she not still be fighting against this threat to her life and possibly humanity itself? Would she not have still managed to saw its blood-filled head in half with the aggression supplied by the very fresh loss of her brother and all her friends?
While the tree rape may have found a way to “work” in Evil Dead, in the grand scheme of the film, it’s still completely and totally gratutitous — even for a movie whose tagline could simply be “oodles of blood.”
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