Was Spielberg the true director of ‘Poltergeist’?


Was Spielberg the true director of ‘Poltergeist’?



July 26, 2017

“Polter geist” has long triggered suspicions about whether it was directed by Tobe Hooper or co-writer/ producer Steven Spielberg. Photo: Warner Home Video

“Polter geist” has long triggered suspicions about whether it was directed by Tobe Hooper or co-writer/ producer Steven Spielberg.

“Polter geist” has long triggered suspicions about whether it…

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The invisible hand

of ‘Poltergeist’

“Wish Upon” filmmaker John Leonetti, who was first assistant cameraman on “Poltergeist,” recently threw his weight behind long-held suspicions that Steven Spielberg, not credited director Tobe Hooper, directed that 1982 horror favorite.


Over the years, many have questioned who did what on the original “Poltergeist.” When one compares the visual styles and certain thematic proclivities of the directors in question, the film looks much more like Spielberg than Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Lifeforce”). Spielberg’s love of horror is also well documented (“Duel,” “Something Evil,” “Twilight Zone: The Movie”).

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There has been widespread speculation that a clause in Spielberg’s “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” contract prevented him from directing something else while prepping that eventual megahit. But some involved in the “Poltergeist” production, including cast members and composer Jerry Goldsmith, have referred to Spielberg as its de facto director, or at least its dominant co-director.

Appearing on the Blumhouse podcast, “ShockWaves,” this month, Leonetti said, “Steven Spielberg directed that movie. There’s no question. … 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.”

An interesting research piece on Spielberg and “Poltergeist” is at https://tinyurl.com/yas525xd.

Martin Landau RIP

Martin Landau collected the supporting-actor prize for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood.” Though the late actor’s idiosyncratic work as the fading screen legend was sympathetic and indelible, it might not have been Landau’s finest performance.

His turn as desperate, scheming ophthalmologist Judah in Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989) was a key factor in making that film an effective drama.

Judah is a liar, cheat and eventually a murderer, yet in Landau’s (and Allen’s) hands, he ends up despicably human in a morally unmoored universe.

Landau, who also starred in TV’s “Mission: Impossible” and was a highly respected acting teacher, died July 15 at age 89.

A 1990 interview with Landau about “Crimes” is at https://tinyurl.com/ya5hmqjs.

Trivia question

Landau turned down a TV role that became iconic. When Landau later left “Mission: Impossible” in a contract dispute after three Emmy nominations, the actor who took that role essentially took Landau’s slot on “Mission.” What was the role Landau turned down and what actor took it?

George Romero RIP

George A. Romero, who died July 16 at age 77, is best known for starting the cinematic zombie-apocalypse craze with “Night of the Living Dead” in 1969. Perhaps he should be equally recognized for the social consciousness of his films.

In the documentary “Nightmares in Red, White and Blue,” Romero said “Night” was about “revolution. … We were ’60s guys and … sort of pissed off that the ’60s revolution didn’t work. ‘Peace and love’ didn’t solve anything in the end, in fact, [expletive] was looking worse.”

Romero consistently used the metaphor of the zombie apocalypse for social commentary. Often, as it turns out in “Night,” humans are the worst monsters. “Dawn of the Dead” (1978) was a delirious gouging of consumerism, with zombies mindlessly returning to their mecca — a shopping mall. Romero described “Land of the Dead” (2005) — with its class-warfare backdrop and an enthusiastic appetite for “eating the rich” — as a tale of complacency and too much faith in government.

In a 2010 Time magazine interview, Romero said, “If there’s something I’d like to criticize, I can bring the zombies out. … So I’ve been able to express my political views through those films.”

A clip of Quentin Tarantino presenting Romero with the “Mastermind” Award at the 2009 Scream Awards is at https://tinyurl.com/yaxhnlrt [NSFW].

Trivia answer

That would be Mr. Spock on the original “Star Trek,” which of course made Leonard Nimoy famous.

Michael Ordoña is a Los Angeles freelance writer. Twitter: @michaelordona

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