A rumor that’s swirled around the 1982 supernatural horror classic (and effective clown-based emotional trauma delivery mechanism) Poltergeist for ages appears to have been confirmed as genuine fact in 2017.
Wish Upon director John Leonetti gave a first-hand account of what went down on the set of the Reagan era franchise starter when he popped by the Blumhouse podcast Shock Waves. His brother Matt Leonetti was the Director of Photography on the original film and John was also behind the scenes in a first assistant cameraman role. That background led to being flat out asked on the podcast who “really” directed Poltergeist. Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chains Saw Massacre, Lifeforce) is listed as the person that helmed the film, but the style of the movie has fostered suspicions that Poltergeist producer/writer Steven Spielberg was who was really in control. Leonetti was happy to reflect on his time on the set and share his insight.
“It was both fun and intense. Spielberg, after work was the nicest guy on the planet,” said Leonetti. “We’d even go to his house in Beverly Hills and watch dailies. On the set, he was very intense.”
According to Leonetti, Hooper was unquestionably a part of the movie, but it was Spielberg that was the director. In fact, he says there was a slick reason why Tobe Hooper was in the director’s position for Poltergeist.
“Hooper was so nice and just happy to be there,” explained Leonetti. “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.”
For what it’s worth, Steven Spielberg has never publicly claimed to be Poltergeist‘s true director. Around the time of the film’s release, Spielberg wrote a letter to Hooper in The Hollywood Reporter saying he press didn’t understand their “unique, creative relationship” in making the movie.