Among a haunted sea of of awful ghost movies and terrible cgi special effects, the original Poltergeist stands out as one of the most chilling and effective horror movies of all time. It’s not piss your pants terrifying (although one scene involving a toy clown actually did nearly make seven year old me piss his pants), but the strong character work, excellent suspense, and practical effects that hold up surprisingly well make the Tobe Hooper directed flick a true standout in the genre.
Well now it turns out the whole “Tobe Hooper directed” aspect is more suspect than once thought, with multiple sources, including Poltergeist’s director of photography Matthew Leonetti, claiming that executive producer (and arguably greatest living filmmaker) Steven Spielberg was the true director. In a recent interview with Blumhouse, Leonetti had this too say.
“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.”
Leonetti’s words seem to confirm the long held theory that Poltergeist was not entirely in Hooper’s hands, which frankly isn’t all that surprising. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the greatest, most influential horror movies ever made, as is Poltergeist. But they sure as hell don’t feel like they had the same creative mind behind them.
While directors can and often do craft extremely original films, most of the time in one way or another, their influence shines through; no Tarantino movie feels like anything but a Tarantino movie. Same with Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and even generally shitty filmmakers like Michael Bay. And through and through, from the cinematography, the pacing, and just the general vibe of the movie, Poltergeist feels distinctly Spielbergian.
So does Spielberg deserve the credit? Probably, but it’s not like the man is lacking in success. And to his credit he has given plenty of praise to Hooper in interviews, stating “Regrettably, some of the press have misunderstood the rather unique, creative relationship which you and I shared throughout the making of Poltergeist, I enjoyed your openness in allowing me, as producer and writer, a wide berth for creative involvement.”
It’s always the presses fault, isn’t it Steve? Well regardless of petty squabbles over who really wore the (likely possessed) pants, at least we got a damn good movie out of it.