There are many rumors and urban legends surrounding the production of the 1982 horror movie Poltergeist. One of the most talked about controversies among fans is the rumor regarding who was truly at the helm throughout the film's production. Now, after decades of speculation, the truth behind the movie's director may have finally been revealed.
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During Blumhouse Productions' podcast Shock Waves, director John Leonetti of Annabelle fame shared some anecdotes from the set of the original Poltergeist. Leonetti worked on Poltergeist as a first assistant cameraman while his older brother Matt served as the Director of Photography. When asked who was really directing, Leonetti revealed that most of the crew took orders from Steven Spielberg, not Tobe Hooper.
For those who may not know, Spielberg is officially credited as a producer on Poltergeist, while Hooper (director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) was listed as the film's director. Due to the stylistic choices commonly associated with Spielberg's works, people suspected that he was the film's real director.
Leonetti shared some first-hand experience from working with Spielberg both during and after the film's shooting.
John Leonetti: It was both fun and intense. Spielberg, after work was the nicest guy on the planet. We’d even go to his house in Beverly Hills and watch dailies. On the set, he was very intense.
However, that's not to say that Hooper didn't have anything to do with Poltergeist. While the haunted house movie may not have been Hooper's brainchild, Leonetti says the Lifeforce director worked as a creative consultant and even directed scenes whenever the man behind Jaws needed a break.
John Leonetti: Hooper was so nice and just happy to be there. He creatively had input. Steven developed the movie, and it was his to direct, except there was anticipation of a director’s strike, so he was “the producer” but really he directed it in case there was going to be a strike and Tobe was cool with that. It wasn’t anything against Tobe. Every once in a while, he would actually leave the set and let Tobe do a few things just because. But really, Steven directed it.
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Doubts and rumors surrounding the movie's director have been making headlines ever since Poltergeist's original release. At the time of filming, Spielberg was obligated by his contract with Universal Studios to not direct any film other than the then-upcoming E.T.: Extra Terrestrial.
Both Hooper and Spielberg have denied this repeatedly, with Hooper and producer Frank Marshall saying that Hooper was the director. However, their claims and open letters did little to quell the rumors due to the conflicting reports and statements from the cast and crew. Zelda Rubinstein, who played the psychic Tangina Barrons in the movie, was even quoted in 2007 as saying that Hooper was only "partially there," and that Spielberg was the "de facto director."
The two iconic filmmakers have yet to give a statement regarding Leonetti's recent claims, so speculation can theoretically continue. Having said that, Leonetti's comment is the most concrete evidence to date.