According to all official records, the 1982 haunted house classic Poltergeist was directed by Texas Chain Saw Massacre filmmaker Tobe Hooper. It's no secret that Steven Spielberg was involved in the production, having written and produced it, but as decades have gone by, details have come to light that Spielberg was much more directly involved with the filmmaking process, with some reports claiming he directed far more than Hooper.
Filmmaker John Leonetti, who was assistant camera on the film, recently revealed to the Shock Waves podcast that "there's no question" about Spielberg being the actual director of the film.
"It was a very intense, very fun, very technical movie to work on," Leonetti explained. "There's a lot going on. And candidly…Steven Spielberg directed that movie. There's no question. However, Tobe Hooper — I adore. I love that man so much."
It doesn't get much more definitive than that. In this day and age of internet rumors trying to explain behind-the-scenes production changes, many are quick to assume that Spielberg stepped in to work on the film due to Hooper's inadequacies as a filmmaker. Rather, Leonetti explains he knew exactly what he was getting into by attaching his name to the film, in hopes of Spielberg avoiding an upcoming director's strike.
"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," Leonetti noted. "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."
Given each filmmaker's track record leading up to the film, it makes much more sense that Spielberg was the mastermind behind the production, which falls much more in line with his filmmaking sensibilities.
Coming from the much more gritty and grounded Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Salem's Lot, Poltergeist captures a more fantastical tone which is closer in line to Spielberg's E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.0comments
Spielberg has most likely kept the details of the shoot under wraps as to not discredit Hooper's talent as a filmmaker, but hopefully one day both parties can officially clear the air and divulge the ins and outs of how the production went down.