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[Vintage Video] Rare ‘Poltergeist’ Mini-Doc Ends the “Who Directed It?” Debate

Who really directed Poltergeist? Tobe Hooper or Steven Spielberg?

According to the official credits, Steven Spielberg co-wrote and produced Poltergeist while Tobe Hooper directed the film, but there’s been much debate about that over the years. Most feel that it was actually Spielberg who directed most or possibly all of the movie, and when you watch it, it’s hard not to agree. Poltergeist is a Spielberg movie on every level, so if he indeed was only a producer on it, well, he was the most-hands, creatively involved producer in the history of cinema.

So who really directed Poltergeist? This vintage video I just dug up over on YouTube sure seems to suggest that it was Spielberg a whole lot more than it was Hooper. The mini-doc has never appeared on any home video release (correction: I’ve been told it was on the MGM Laserdisc, but no other releases), and it showcases the filming of a few key scenes. Not surprisingly, Spielberg is at the helm for all those scenes, directing the action and relaying his vision to the crew. As for Hooper, he only makes a brief appearance, and his input (or lack thereof) lines up with what Spielberg has said in the past about his involvement in the making of the film: “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.”

In fairness to Hooper, it must’ve been incredibly stifling to try and direct a movie with Spielberg, at the time at the height of his popularity, on set calling the shots. More than anything, this seems to be a case of Hooper trying to make a movie that Spielberg himself was dead-set on making, and though that resulted in a great movie, one has to imagine it was frustrating for Hooper.

In any event, check out the vintage Poltergeist doc below!



  • Wilson Bro

    This featurette was put on the expensive CAV LaserDisc from MGM, and I think this was the only place you could see it.

    It leaves you in no doubt that Spielberg directed the movie, something which certain members of the cast confirmed and even Spielberg himself alluded to by saying that he set up the shots, but Hooper was always the one who called “action” and “cut”. Seeing Hooper looking so very disinterested/disheartened in his brief appearance makes you wonder if he was chosen for the weight his name carried in in the genre, or that Spielberg wanted to make the movie, but legally couldn’t for one reason for another, using Hooper as a front for the whole thing. Stallone did the same thing on both Rambo: First Blood Part II and Cobra.

    A couple of years ago, Hooper was the subject of a Q&A at the prestigious Fright Fest over here in London, and he was so whacked-out substances that the sense of embarrassment in the auditorium was palpable. He’s known for liking his vices, so it might have been this which cemented Spielberg picking him as his puppet for directing Poltergeist.

    • swiley

      From Wikipedia: “A clause in his contract with Universal Studios prevented Spielberg from directing any other film while preparing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”

  • RedNeoCon

    1. JoBeth Williams was fine AF back then.

    2. From this….it looks like Spielberg directed the film.

  • Peter Kushing

    Fuck, whatever the case, they made a classic

  • Sykes

    I don’t even care who really directed it. It FEELS like a Spielberg-directed horror movie, and it’s great. Who actually did what doesn’t matter so much as what they did.

  • Bloodspatta

    Spielberg definitely directed this. Anyhoo, regardless it’s an awesome and classic film.

  • Simon Allen

    Judging the standard of ALL of Hoopers future movies is enough to tell you he WASN’T at the helm for Poltergeist.
    But I love him for bringing us Lifeforce ….what a wonderful mess .

  • tbaio

    I read that Hooper was specifically chosen & that he did indeed start the shooting of the film. Spielberg however, was displeased with what he saw & took over. As a producer, he had that power. That’s had to suck for Hooper, but the end result speaks for itself.

    • Derk73

      The first cut of the film was Hooper’s, then Spielberg went back and re-edited the film. I’d LOVE to see Hooper’s cut.

      • tbaio

        Now that I did not hear. I only heard Spielberg took over early on after looking at a few daily shots.

  • Ted C

    So documentaries are now just “docs”. I can’t keep up with the Millennial’s destruction of the English language.

    • Micah Unice

      You, sir, have no business watching horror flicks.

  • Arch Stanton

    OK, so maybe he was just holding Tobe’s hand, mentor, teacher….
    Maybe he’s freeing up the budget so he’s not getting paid for everything….
    There are a lot of inside reasons but hey, people keep saying this was a great film but when you go back and look at Steven’s work you really see how much crap they really are.

    plot holes and inconsistencies.

    • tbaio

      The same could easily be said about Hooper. One of the reasons its so believable that Spielberg was the main director is because the movie turned out to be good. Hooper is not known for much after Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

      • Derk73

        Hooper had some serious drug problems that derailed his career not long after Poltergeist. For a 35 year old TV movie, “Salem’s Lot’ still packs a pretty surprisingly good punch, and “Lifeforce” is a fun movie that probably would have been even better if not for studio interference. I’m also a fan of “Venom” – Hooper directed about half of that movie before being fired for his severe drug problems.
        He was no Spielberg, mind you, but few directors are.

        • tbaio

          Being made for TV, Salem’s Lot gave Tobe Hooper time to stretch out the story which was good for him (look at the house’s interior…very reminiscent of TCM) & he did a good job, granted. Lifeforce is trash. Without beautiful Mathilda May walking around stark naked, there would be no memory of that movie. Eaten Alive was better. I’m no hater of Hooper. His films however have no lasting power. Poltergeist packed a punch. When I 1st heard that Spielberg was the “true” director, I was not surprised at all.

    • Frankos

      Of course Jaws, Raiders, ET, Close Encounters all absolute crap! You Muppet!!

  • Raul Calvo

    This “making of” was produced and directed by Frank Marshall, long time Spielberg collaborator, and its only 7 minutes long and made at the time when Spielberg popularity was at its highest, and Hooper was fairly unknown outside the horror community. Seriously, you’re going to end this debate based only on this?

  • Evan3

    Just curious, but if Spielberg wanted to direct it, spent considerable time on-set, and at least directed some scenes, why the hell didn’t he just make the movie all together? I’ve never understood why they didn’t just put him at the helm officially.

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