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'Poltergeist' Cameraman Says Steven Spielberg Actually Directed The Movie

Spielberg at a movie premiere in March. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
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Hollywood loves a good creation myth, particularly when it involves above-the-line talent. Rumors have swirled for years that fright master Tobe Hooper's 1982 horror classic Poltergeist was secretly shadow-directed by Steven Spielberg. In an interview with the Shock Waves podcast last Friday, Poltergeist assistant cameraman John Leonetti confirmed the rumor directly, saying, "“Steven Spielberg directed that movie. There’s no question."

Hollywood lore has it that Spielberg Alan Smithee'd himself out of a directing credit on Poltergeist because he was working on E.T. at the time, and his contract barred him from directing another project at the same time. However, Leonetti noted that Spielberg's decision to settle for a lowly writer/producer credit came mostly from the possibility of an impending director's strike: "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." You see, directors would be compelled to stop work in the event of a strike, but writer/producers wouldn't. Clever!

It's hard to imagine Spielberg being reticent on set, but Leonetti noted that every once in a while, the Jaws and Jurassic Park director would "actually leave the set and let Tobe do a few things just because." (Gasp.) Still, it sounds like there's no question as to who was the auteur behind Poltergeist; hey, at least Hooper still has The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to his name. If all this drama has you craving a fix of 1980s horror nostalgia, you can always go visit the Poltergeist house, which is located alarmingly close to L.A.