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!