In the annals of cinematic conspiracy theories, the story that Steven Spielberg was the actual director of the 1982 horror classic “Poltergeist,” is one that many people are willing to believe is true. At the time, Universal‘s contract with Spielberg prevented him from making another movie as he prepared “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” and yet he found himself on the set of “Poltergeist,” which was being helmed by Tobe Hooper. While Spielberg never quite came out and said he was the actual director on the movie, he made it clear that his involvement went even further than being the film’s co-writer and producer.
“Tobe isn’t… a take-charge sort of guy. If a question was asked and an answer wasn’t immediately forthcoming, I’d jump in and say what we could do. Tobe would nod agreement, and that became the process of collaboration,” he said.
Spielberg would later walk back those comments, and give Hooper more credit for his creative involvement. Moreover, in the years that have passed, he’s never said he was anything more than an interested party on set, however, a new claim is asserting that Spielberg is merely being humble.
Blumhouse recently sat down with “Wish Upon” director John Leonetti, and you might be wondering what his connection to all this is. Well, his brother Matthew Leonetti was the director of photography on “Poltergeist,” and John was on set as well, working as the assistant camera. And for John, there’s no doubt about who was calling the shots on “Poltergeist.”
“The really cool thing about ‘Poltergeist’ — I’ll never forget the very first time I walked on the shooting set, there were 4 x 8 foam core boards with 8 ½ by 11 storyboards on them, and I’d never seen anything like that before. It was a very intense, very fun, very technical movie to work on. There’s a lot going on. And candidly… Steven Spielberg directed that movie. There’s no question,” Leonetti said.
“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,” he added.
So, mystery solved? Sure sounds like it, but we’ll see if this comes up in the forthcoming “Spielberg” documentary on HBO. For now, listen to the full talk with Leonetti below.