Neither Steven Spielberg Or Tobe Hooper Can Take Full Credit For Poltergeist

One of the hotly debated topics in horror movie history is who exactly directed the 1982 film, "Poltergeist" about a suburban family who moves in to a house that is very much haunted. Official records credit Tobe Hooper as the director in question, but there are those who believe it was really Steven Spielberg who called all the shots on set.

Hooper is perhaps best known for his twisted, low-budget 1974 film "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" about a deranged family who captures and murders a group of unsuspecting travelers after they run out of gas for their van. Spielberg, on the other hand, made a name for himself making slightly less disturbing blockbusters that were fun for the whole family. "Poltergeist" is based on a story written by Spielberg (who also helped write the script), and Spielberg was a producer for the film. However, because he was beginning work on his next big movie, "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," Spielberg was legally not allowed to direct another film alongside it. 

Even though Hooper sat in the director's chair, Spielberg spent so much time on set that the lines begin to blur over whose film "Poltergeist" really is. The internet is full of all different opinions on the topic, some "Team Tobe" and others "Team Steve," but perhaps the real answer is that this wild film about home ownership gone wrong was actually nothing more than an epic collaboration between two of cinemas greatest directors. 

The power of a letter

One of the biggest pieces of evidence to suggest that "Poltergeist" was a mutual collaboration between Hooper and Spielberg is a letter that was published in The Hollywood Reporter after the film was finally released in theaters. Spielberg wrote this letter to Hooper as a way to dispel the quick-forming rumors that it was really he and not Hooper who directed the new film. In the letter Spielberg writes, "Regrettably, some of the press has misunderstood the rather unique, creative relationship which you and I shared throughout the making of 'Poltergeist.'" He goes on to say, "I enjoyed your openness in allowing me, as a producer and a writer, a wide berth for creative involvement," complimenting Hooper by saying, "As the director, you delivered the goods." 

While some might say this letter is nothing more than a poor effort at covering up the fact that Spielberg really directed "Poltergeist," it can also be seen as an honest attempt to set the record straight. 

Team Tobe, Team Steve

In an article for Vanity Fair, Craig T. Nelson, who played the father Steve Freeling in the film, confirms Spielberg's "hands-on approach" on set, but says, "It was always from a very creative collaboration. There was no tension on the set in that regard." Co-star and wife in the film, JoBeth Williams, seems to agree, though she does believe that in Spielberg's "heart of hearts, he would've loved to have directed it."

Williams elaborates, saying: 

"I'm sure there were times when it drove Tobe crazy to have Steven so actively involved, but he never let on. They were both kind of there on the set. Tobe would give direction, sometimes Steven would add to that or give other direction, but I think it's fair to say that it was sort of a combo of the two of them, because certainly Steven was actively involved."

John Leonetti who served as assistant camera to his brother Matt Leonetti (Director of Photography for "Poltergeist") on set also touched on this topic in an interview for Bloody Disgusting. While Leonetti seems to be largely "Team Steve" when it comes to siding with a director (he tells Bloody Disgusting, "Candidly ... Steven Spielberg directed that movie. There's no question"), he does concede that Hooper "creatively had input" during filming. So while it does appear that Spielberg was more involved with "Poltergeist" than is typically the norm for producers, the final product is truly a result of a unique partnership.