Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"IT'S NIGHTTIME" Treatment

The following is the "It's Nighttime" treatment that Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper first collaborated on during the Spring of 1980.  A year and one month later they would begin principal photography.  I have marked in red the parts that have mostly survived into the final script, and marked in bolded red the parts that are most relevant to the ideas I will put forth: in summary, the parts that may point to ideas that Hooper may have originated, in his collaborative correspondences with Spielberg.  Spielberg would formally coalesce and draft the swift, strategic popcorn narrative that would become Poltergeist, but some core ideas - a haunted house movie, one that locates itself in a modern, calcified middle-class America - we cannot put past being the subject matter Hooper himself was interested in elaborating on.

As far as the treatment goes, what we are shown here is an interest in the semiotic connotations of "suburbia" and the American history this manufactured appearance of civilization disguises (think the above ground and below ground societies that Lang manifests in numerous of his films, most explicitly Metropolis) and is, literally, "built upon"; such as it is, a comfortable, complicit way of life erected over the bones of a colonizing and frontiersman past.  This early conception of Poltergeist involved mainly a historic site, that of the bones left from a Native American massacre of pioneering settlers, before it would be generalized into a mere desecration of more typical American dead and their resting place: our friends and neighbors before us, clad in burial garb and the creature comforts of an already gentrified way of life, such as with the matronly skeleton's jewelry in the pool.  What was lost is the interest in a historical past - most interestingly personified in the teenage daughter of the story becoming obsessed with a recording of pioneer tunes, a rather esoteric, writerly invention that would have no place in a summer blockbuster - and consequent interest in a historical trajectory, somehow perceived and lost on the codified-ignorant family of complacent parents and gaggle of insouciant children (and teenagers; it is little mystery why a teenage boy was wiped clean from the story, as who is more complicit than a young man about to enter the custom-suited patriarchal society laid out before him).  A completely non-massaged Poltergeist would surely have had no interest in identifying the members of its family as noble individuals, and would have shown only contempt for their inability to understand any sense of implication to the dead molesting them.  The endearing, individually recognizable family members we have in the final film are barely allowed to internalize the idea of the historical dead that loom over them before their littlest child is snatched away and an immediately recognizable "enemy" - that labeled "Beast" - is offered to them for the narrowing on of sights, for the combining and focusing of their resources for battle.

March 31, 1980 
Steven Freeling is a successful husband, father and provider. His innate practicality and above
average intelligence have made him a successful real estate salesman for a large agency in a
nearby community. He is well liked, and respected by his boss and co-workers, and is considered
an upstanding member of his community.
Nora Freeling, now 34, was married at 17 and pregnant at 18. She, with active help from Steven,
is in the process of raising 4 children, ranging in age from 6 to 16. During this time she has also
managed to juggle her family life well enough to earn a degree in teaching and is active in the
community as a substitute teacher.
That Steven must be a real estate agent is a "must," seemingly, from the very beginning.  On the matter of what would be a "regular family" - a mother and father, already conceived as somewhat "progressive" types stemming from a 60s coming-of-age, and a careless overabundance of children - seems the provenance of Spielberg, who spent his career studying what makes an American family, in various permutations and milieus.

Nora and Steven are close enough in age to their own children that the experiences of a strict
upbringing (whippings, edicts and traditions) are still fresh memories. Thus has the generational
pendulum swung. They govern their domain with chummy lenience, and serious, but
good-natured discipline. They treat their children with respect and humanity, and are afforded
the courtesy of being treated the same. They are a close, open and loving family, fairly typical of
this neighborhood.
The children, Sweeny, age 16, Angel, age 14, Lawrence, age 12, and Carol Ann, age 6, are
children of the 80's. They watch more TV than they should, see all the "PG" movies at the local
six-plex, and do just enough homework to get by in school. They participate in a "healthy"
amount of sibling teasing and fighting, with subjects ranging from which TV show should be
aired to who stole who's toys. They are gregarious children who all have "best friends," "2nd
best friends," "3rd best friends".......
Carol Ann is typically precocious for a child with much older brothers and sisters.
They family generally spends quiet evenings together with bed time dictated at 10:00.
Elmer, the last member of the Freeling family, is a silver-buff Cocker Spaniel who has been a
member of the family almost as long as the oldest child.
TAGINA BARRINS is a 65 year old medium. She has studied under some of the well known
psychics of the times and is a regular contributor to the National Enquirer; this being the only
accepting outlet for her communications with "the other side." She is eccentric in her manner of
dress and speech, but is sincere in her beliefs and very probably a true psychic.  
Tangina, or "Tagina," is one of the earliest elements decided upon, not yet specified as a small person.  She is merely "eccentric," and a part of the parapsychology community.  Hooper had experience with "mediums" at the time - he is said to have visited and studied among psychics and paranormal researchers sometime in the midst of his stint at WB (mentored by William Friedkin) circa-1976, having had an interest in doing a studio ghost story and having been inspired by Robert Wise's The Haunting and the book on poltergeists he had inherited upon taking residence in Wise's old office.
Why must all tales of ghosts and hauntings find their settings in gothic cobwebbed mansions,
miles away from civilization? Where does an audience draw the line between what is real and
what is fantastic?
NIGHT TIME is the story of a frightening occurence; not in a haunted house on a hill, but in the
center of middle class suburbia.  
Again, certain things were conceived and solidified from the beginning, per a convening of interests between Spielberg and Hooper.  This would be a haunted house film taking place in an everyday corner of American living.

Everything seems clear in their heads: a suburban, "ranch style" house, tract housing community, the type Spielberg would have grown up in.  Hooper was sincerely on board.  A mall would figure into it, a symbolic gesture toward modern consumerism a la Dawn of the Dead.  Hooper must have been enlivened by the idea of a big budget ghost story dealing with such sprawling elements of a society.
The Freelings, a middle class family, live at 3443 Wanda; a four bedroom, three and one half
bath, ranch style house. It is a typical tract house located at the end of one of the several
hundred cul-de-sacs in a shopping mall district called Vista. As its name implies, the center of
activity is a large modern shopping center complex. This large, child infested community holds
five schools: two elementary, two junior high, and one high school. On the neatly manicured
rolling hill fringes of town are a well used, man-made lake and the community's "rec-center."
This Chicago suburb is one of many similar communities springing up every day. Its planners'
goal: to bring families and the conveniences of life closer together.
It is a quiet evening. The children have gone to bed allowing Nora and Steven their cherished
hours alone. They go to their bedroom, turn the TV on to THE TONIGHT SHOW, (Something they
do almost every night) and prepare for a well deserved evening of rest and relaxation. They are
lulled to sleep by the voices on the television set. The rest of the evening's programming, the
late-late movie, the broadcast of the local news, the sign-off consisting of the Blue Angels
performing to strains of the Star Spangled Banner, color bars and test patterns, the local sign
off....and finally, static, or white noise. It is through this blizzard of static snow, and beyond 
the slumbered breathing of Nora and Steven, that the first flash of paranormal communication
occurs. The television moans something chillingly audible and the static non-picture rearranges
into something indistinguishable. Steven turns over in his sleep, but does not awaken. The days
that follow bring a stream of odd but not necessarily suspicious occurrences. Periodic phantom
phone calls break the silence in the middle of the night. On the other end, nothing but static
noise; similar to the static of the blank night television.  
The TV element was also there from the very beginning.  One of the greatest faults of the existing picture is how inconsequential, or at least scattered, is the idea of television and broadcast waves as the beacon point with a ghostly dimension.  This is the "science" angle that both Spielberg and Hooper have touted in subsequent interviews, as the way in which to ground a ghost story in reality - but, as it is in the ultimately (and admittedly) somewhat frothy final product, it is essentially diluted "pseudo-science," left to a few sprinkled lines from primarily Martin Casella's Marty.  Spielberg certainly has a footing in science and technology, as seen in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and he had apparently injected this "researcher's inclination" of his into his Poltergeist draft - I of course reference the scientific "gobbledy-gook" Beatrice Straight, Casella, and Richard Lawson found incomprehensible and thus had Spielberg extricate from the sides - and maybe the film would be more coherent if Spielberg was directing, to make the film as grounded in reality and a layer of science as he would have wanted.  But Hooper's rickety ship instead removed a lot of the science, as I imagine a similar process of denudation happening on LifeforcePoltergeist is abstract and nebulous as any of Hooper's other films, his interest in an artistic craft rather than a narrative one so often removing sensibleness from the proceedings.  Melded with Spielberg's random throwing out of "realist" details, it results in a much confusing end product, when these details are so often torn asunder by Hooper's methods.  Thus, the loss of the gobbledy-gook, the loss of a "curious" ectoplasm coming down the staircase in a premonition of The Abyss, the loss of Tangina's more relatable mannerisms as a National Enquirer regular, instead becoming a stoic and almost divine arbiter whose backstory is entirely left to the mystical and inexplicable.

Surely it was Spielberg who came up with the opening scene - a little girl walking to a screen of television static after station sign-off and eerily talking to it - but Hooper was on board with this and he directed it, and perhaps, just perhaps, changed the nostalgic signifier (for Spielberg) of the Blue Angels sign-off and replaced it with the Iwo Jima Memorial sign-off.
Food disappears from the cupboards and refrigerator, and a special lemon meringue pie is
marred by nibbling fingers. But with children in the house, and the children's friends, the blame
is not easily fixed. The furniture, slightly at first, is rearranged. Just enough to annoy a
meticulous mother; not enough to cause suspicion. Elmer, the family dog, begins wandering to a
certain alcove in the house. He then sits there, facing the wall, occasionally whimpering toward
it, reaching out his paw and scratching at the air. But, well, he's getting old, and if people can get
senile, so can dogs.
Angel, their 14 year old daughter, while cleaning out the garage, finds an old record of 19th
century songs supposedly sung by pioneers as they crossed the country. It becomes her favorite
album and is played all the time. She finds it soothing and somehow familiar. The songs become
a part of her life; humming them as she studies, walks to school and does her daily chores. But
then "things" start happening. Annoying things, inexplicable things, nerve fraying things.
The television starts to change channels by itself; to news station and cartoons, specifically. The
children, bright and inventive, are at first blamed for creating some gadget to "annoy and
frighten your mother." Having proven innocence or at least protested enough, Steven goes next
door to see if the neighbors are playing tricks with their remote controls. But the neighbors
aren't home. And a phone call to a friend assures Steven that a friend's remote control wouldn't
work on his set anyhow.
The Freelings are bird lovers. They have built a beautiful aviary which has become the home of
many different kinds, colors and sizes of birds. The aviary is located on a patio that is attached to
the house. Steven and Nora awaken one early morning to find birds flying all over the house. At
first, angry at the children for not closing the cage, Steve wakes them and takes them all
downstairs for a lecture on closing and locking the bird cage. But upon entering the porch,
everyone is silenced by something: the sight of the aviary torn open, a feat accomplished by
something beyond human strength. But no noise had awakened them..."what is going on?"
Windows and doors open and close, seemingly by themselves. In the middle of the night
someone has to go downstairs to re-bolt a window or re-lock a door. Furniture is being moved
around more obviously now.
Nora, preparing a meal in the kitchen, hears someone swimming in the pool. She calls outside
for whoever it is to get out and get ready for dinner. Her calls are ignored. She goes outside to
the sight of something invisible doing what looks like laps in the pool (Or perhaps we, the
audience, see something doing laps, but when Nora gets out there, it is gone). This could make
her even more nervous, thinking that there is something wrong with her, or that it is someone
playing tricks.
One evening, as Angel is getting ready for bed, she takes off her clothes and moves to the bed
when she is startled and almost screams. There is a lump in her bed, a lump shaped like a body.
Recovering, she starts to scold her sister for scaring her, and turns back the covers to discover
that there is nothing there. She turns to her sister's bed across the room. She is fast asleep.
The usual bluish of the household lights turn different colors and hues, both day and night.
Sometimes not enough to cause any more than squinting, or rubbing of the viewing party's eyes.
Steve and Nora prepare to leave for a dinner with their friends. They have called a babysitter
because the older children are going to a movie. As Steven is shaving, the 19th Century Music
album is turned on full volume. This startles him and causes him to cut himself. He storms out of
the bedroom, goes to the stereo, takes off the album and breaks it. He then yells for Angel and
reprimands her for turning it on so loud. She hasn't done it. The other children deny it also.
Steven accuses one of them of lying. "Record players don't just turn themselves on, you know."
Angel, upset with her father for breaking her album, and for accusing her unjustly, goes to her
room upset. She has to prepare for her date.
She sits at her vanity looking at herself, and being angry with her father. She starts to put on
lipstick. Looking into the mirror, she is putting her lipstick on someone else's face. She screams.
This brings her image back to the mirror. She is frightened to look into mirrors from this point
Anxious to get out of the house, Angel hurries her older brother, with whom she and several
other friends are going to the movies, out of the house. The babysitter, a 15 year old teenager,
arrives allowing Nora and Steven to be on their way.
As she puts the children to bed, they talk her into telling them a story. She concedes, and tells
them a ghost story. As she tells her story, actual events in the house upstage the fictional story
she is telling them, adding to and punctuating the higher points. Terrified, the babysitter,
negligent of her duties, runs screaming from the house into the night. Neighbors' lights go on,
obviously disturbed by the screaming.
The older children get home to find the little ones sitting together on the steps, no babysitter in
sight. The parents return to a story of a deserting babysitter who says their house is haunted.
The evening's events have everyone on edge, especially Steven and Nora.  
Nora sits at her vanity brushing out her long auburn tresses. As she brushes her hair somewhat
mindlessly past her right shoulder, an invisible wind lifts her hair out from her brush and her
hand. It arches her hair slowly over her head and lays it to rest on her left shoulder. She sits
frozen, unable to speak, the empty brush in her hand, her wide eyes locked on her image in the
mirror. At that moment, she feels something touching her cheek. We see two indentations, such
as fingers would make, as her cheek gently caves in, opening her lips, and her face is tilted
upward by an invisible hand. She then receives a "ghost kiss," a long, forced, passionate kiss,
from which she cannot free herself. As she is released, there is a noise from the living /dining
area. Steven bolts from their bathroom, sees the wide-eyed, almost panicked, expression on his
wife's face. He grabs her hand, and together they walk down the hall to check the house. The
furniture in the dining room has been totally rearranged. The chairs are on top of the furniture.
Some of the furniture has been moved from room to room. They wake the children, pack lightly,
pick up the dog and leave to spend the night at the local Holiday Inn. They will stay there for the
evening, then move into Nora's sister's house within a day or so.  
Diane's - or "Nora's" - molestation by a ghost is another element from the very first draft of the treatment.  It is less a climactic point, though, than simply another episode in the essentially random series of events that make up this treatment.  For there was not yet a structured story to the film.  The only thing Spielberg and Hooper could muster so far was "ghosts in suburbia" and the idea parapsychologists (and media) would become involved, then a ghost "plague" afflicting the entire town.  Otherwise, their treatment is simply a "bunch of ideas," as Grais and Victor would put it, and it would only morph into a dark adventure film once Spielberg would rewrite the Grais/Victor draft in a deadline-competing bout of inspiration, manifested in "storytelling" sessions he held with Marshall and Kennedy (and Hooper).  Spielberg, as the writer, decided, "This is how we're going to do it, and this is how we're going to give this film an adventure film structure, character end goals, and forward momentum."  Still, this collection of ideas within this treatment shows a willingness to do something sprawling and symbolic, before the necessities of commercial cinema would whittle it down.  Hooper did not object.  He fully knew the film he was making (making himself, to be clear).  But this treatment shows his errant ambition, his interest in the uncanny, and his interest in telling a history of the ills of Western civilization.  One of these things still exists in the final picture: the interest in the uncanny, the magic tricks of cinema, the vivid melodrama of the image that drains narrative of its realistic particulars and leaves only an evocative "abstraction" of ideas. 
The next day, unable to work because of the events of his home life, and not knowing what to
do, he calls the Parapsychological organization within the University of Chicago. They all decide
that the best idea for the Freelings is to spend another night at the hotel, while some of their
experts spend an evening at their home with test equipment.
That evening in the hotel room, feeling things are getting better, Nora and Steven make love.
However, something happens. A spirit enters Steven's body, causing his personality and actions
to be altered a bit. He does and says things to her that are obviously not of his doing. Things
which Nora would find baroque, to say the least. His manner of love-making is altered, but
rather than Nora being turned off, she is somehow excited by this change. What in essence is
happening, is that she is making love to two men at the same time. Steven, and another spirit.
Some of the things which he says harp back to an old time, long, long ago.
The next morning at breakfast, things are a bit strained. A normal breakfast conversation is
changed into a frightening experience when the six-year-old, Carol Ann, is talking about what
she is going to do at school when all of a sudden, for no more than three or four words, her
voice changes, slips two octaves, and a man's voice continues telling the story in the child's
own words, but only for a few seconds before the young girl's voice returns. The whole family
stops eating, and stares. It is obvious that the child is not aware of what has just occurred. Nora
gets up. Puts her hand over her mouth, stares at Steven with a realization of the night before,
and runs back up to their room.
They come to grips with the fact that it might not be the house, but themselves that are
"haunted." The desire for familiar surroundings, and the realization that no one's been hurt,
causes them to go back home.
On arriving home, they realize that their house has been invaded by an entourage of young,
long-haired parapsychologists. Between their visit and the horrifying experience of the
babysitter, the entire neighborhood realizes that something terrible is happening in their
Also taking place at this time is a major archeological dig. This is going on not from from the
Freeling's home (Perhaps instead of a dig, it should be just the building of some new homes in a
tract, nearby). The excavators discover bones. Human bones. Thousands of them. It is
discovered that what has been unearthed is an extremely large grave site. The results of a
massive massacre of white settlers, perhaps 150 years ago. The bones had been shoveled into
shallow graves in approximately a 100 acre perimeter. Children, babies, pioneer men and their
women. Arrow heads, scalping knives-a horrible way to die.  
One wonders whose idea it was to have the ghosts be "white settlers" massacred by the problematic bogeymen of "savage" natives.  Hooper has always been willing to tease the non-Manichean duality of civilization, showing the cannibal clans of both Chainsaw films to be both the victims and the villains, bourgoisie culture both complicit and innocent, the villains of Eaten Alive both the white businesswoman and the white veteran, as well as the reptilian Other, the alligator that represents every ailment and suffering the white man blames his psychosis on.  The willingness to create a threat from an anonymous force of White America, blaming their suffering on everyone but themselves, is something Hooper becomes quite accustomed to, and I wonder if Hooper insisted this nebulous use of White Christian settlers as the source of a demonic threat.  If it was Spielberg, it would be more indebted to his occasional interest in occult and folk-Americana horror, as seen in Duel and Something Evil.  As a conception of both together, they would soon realize this headiness would have to be sacrificed to make something more mainstream and in line with the blockbuster model Spielberg and Lucas pioneered, apart and together.  Hooper was along for the ride, but would need to create something valid and personal from the more frivolous affair that he and his producers would generate.
This discovery, along with the disclosure of the events at the Freeling household, cause experts
to hypothesize that perhaps through a rift in the barrier between "now" and "then," and
through one of the members of the Freeling family, as a mortal host, the spirits have found a
gateway into the 1980's and American suburbia. Some hypothesize that they are looking for
help to the next world, the world that they belong in, and the world that has been denied them.
The Freelings are instantly descended upon by professional, pseudo-professional and crack-pot
ghost hunters who all want to spend an evening in the house with the ghosts and their
new-fangled equipment for recording spirits on film and tape. A psychologist informs the family
that perhaps the spirits are attracted to one member of the family, and that a battery of tests
could be run to determine who it was. Not wanting to place any kind of "blame" or ostracization
upon any member of the family , they refuse the testing. Besides, what would they do with the
"guilty" party? 

An Entity-like, Frank De Felitta-like moral quandary as tied to the supernatural invasion is formulated here and one almost dismays at the triumph of the inconsequential ghouls of burgeoning 80s fantasy filmmaking over the non-commerciality of "family drama horror" that had its heyday in the 70s.   Like the paternity tests of a domestic drama, the Freelings aren't strong-armed into a display of their parental love by an abduction, but are left with an open-ended quandary of what child to love the most and which to perhaps love least.  If you read this entire treatment, you will eventually get to a suggested story arc of Diane's strained relationship with her youngest, Carol Anne, imbued with telekinetic powers (in a blatant ripping off of Carrie, and its own real-life paranormal inspirations) the latter whom the mother abandons after the swimming pool episode and then allows to engulf herself in a house of flames in the most shocking direction taken in one treatment amendment.
As the Freelings and their house become unwitting celebrities, the children are saddled with a
barrage of torment from schoolmates. They are avoided. They are "the haunted people."
One of the people who comes to help the Freelings is TAGINA BARRINS, a psychic, and regular
contributor to the National Enquirer. She is a comic character who, though she comes off as a
crazy old lady seeking attention, is probably the most helpful and authentic psychic of them all.
She spends a lot of time just walking around talking to the house. At one point, TAGINA is
awakened in the dead of night, and in a somnambulistic state, drives to the Freeling's home, is
admitted by our unseen visitors, and walks into Nora and Steven's bedroom. They wake with a
start, finding her talking to the television set static.   
Tagina, a "comic character," who remains a comic character in the shooting script but is considerably toned down in the final film.
The Freeling's neighbors, once very friendly, have been almost hostile. A petition has been
started by the Eisenhowers to force them to leave the neighborhood. It is what Steven and his
family want more than anything. They look for a home in the area in which Steven works, but
are informed by his boss that if they think about bringing their bizarre ghostly rumors and cultist
rituals to his 400 acres of suburban tranquility, he will be fired and will never work in real estate
Within a short period of time, the Freeling neighbors have problems of their own. Screams and
panic indicate that like a contagious virus, the haunting has spread: first to the Eisenhower
home, then across the street to other neighbors; then down the block. Beyond causing
frightened residents to harm themselves while fleeing ghostly manifestations, ghost fires are
set. (A ghost fire is a phenomenon which can take place in any room of a house. Perhaps in the
cold center of the haunting in that home. The fire will devastate everything in a specific area,
but will not spread to other rooms or other floors.) Each haunting, in each home, is signaled by
the television. Where there is a remote control device, the TV will flip on by itself in the early
hours of the morning to a station that is broadcasting static noise. The manifestations originate
Other items for possible incorporation would be:
The manifestations love to materialize (not in humanoid form such as ghosts), and occasionally
we will see ectoplasmic displays, perhaps emanating from the toaster in the house. (Ectoplasm
is a spermatozoa-like substance that originates often from the fingers of mediums trying to
contact spirits from the other side). But yet these ectoplasm manifestations could come from
the family toaster, or from the microwave oven, or from anything naturally uncommon. 
Occasionally there is a manifestation of a whisp-like type of smoke in basic humanoid form that
keeps changing shape and travels from one room to the next, until if finds the recipient is has
been looking for. When found, the smoke will dissipate into the sleeping person. We will see
their hair blow from their ear, as if a ghostly breath is whispering something privately, and
chillingly. We might even hear mournful crying of "help me, help me" from perhaps a
poltergeist. Beyond the toaster and the microwave oven, the ectoplasmic manifestations will
finally develop first and foremost from the television sets that are on during static hours, as if a
form is trying to climb out of the TV set and into your home to haunt you. This could be the
climax of the story. (Hooper and Spielberg wrote The Ring before it was The Ring.)
Another aspect of the dog's being affected by the Haunting, could be for the family to see it roll
over on its back, as if it is being tickled on the tummy; and without anything obviously petting it,
he wags his right leg, the common reaction of most dogs when being tickled above the
One possible ending for NIGHT TIME could be the evacuation of the town by the townspeople.
As we slowly pan through the empty town and its deserted homes, we see ghost fires being lit.
The town burns, TV sets imploding; the burial ground has not been consecrated, and the souls
are set to rest in peace.
Addition to treatment dated July 31, 1980
A petition has been started by the Eisenhowers to force the Freelings to move from the
neighborhood. Following various threatening telephone calls throughout dinner, Steven angrily
calls the police and asks for someone to come out and investigate the situation. A call from the
Freeling home or other families on this community suburb, protesting unusual occurrences.
A policeman arrives approximately 8pm. He asks Steven and his family questions about recent
threats, etc. And then falls into a serious discussion about the Freelings moving from the
neighborhood all together. At least consider a temporary move. Growing hostility has been
evident through periodic vandalism. Several windows over the last week with broken windows
in their house and automobile along with other assorted mischief. Steven loses his temper at
one point during their conversation and questions whether the local police department has
really made a concerted effort to do anything to protect his family let alone control this
mounting violence. As the conversation heightens almost to hysteria, an iron comes hurling
through the living room plate glass window followed by the loud chanting of an angry mob
outside, "Free us from the Freelings." Steven grabs the police man and screams, "What are you
going to do about that?" pointing hysterically out the window. Flustered, the policeman frees
himself from Steven's grasp and takes control by ordering Nora and the children into the living
room on the floor out of the way of the windows. Things settle for a bit and the policeman and
Steven move toward the front door. He reaches over to pull it open, gun drawn, he jumps back
just as a frying pan flies by catching the corner of the door jamb. Out of sight, but with the door
still ajar, the policeman yells orders for the crowd to disperse. Footsteps and scurrying can now
be heard on the roof, Nora attempting to calm the children. Lightheartedly (on the surface), she
heads to the kitchen to get the children some milk and cookies. It's obvious the crowd, laden
with guns, frying pans, kitchen knives, crow bars, etc., are paying little attention to the
policeman's demands. He reaches over to shut the door, the chanting continues, several octaves
higher now. As the door slams, he yells to Steven to get on the phone for some backup units. As
he says this, a huge gush of water pours out of the fireplace, sending a cloud of ashes and soot
into the living room. The children jump up running and screaming. Nora, in the kitchen, sends a
glass pitcher crashing to the floor, she screams and runs to the living room. Steven, angry and
frightened, grabs the phone to call for reinforcements but the phone lines have been cut and
the phone is dead. Nora and the children begin bolting the doors and windows frantically. The
chanting outside continues. The youngest of the Freelings, Carol Ann, silently sobs in the corner
of the couch holding snugly to a white stuffed bunny rabbit. In the midst of the terror, she
suddenly stands and makes her way toward the window, a very content look on her face as she
gazes outside at the angry faces. Her bunny drops and dangles from her hand as she slowly looks
toward the sky. Slowly at first, then like locusts, real rocks begin descending from the sky,
pummeling the mob. People begin screaming and running in all directions. Slowly various
members of the family stop what they're doing and move toward the living room window.
Within a few minutes, the yard is cleared of people and rocks cover what was a lawn. The family,
relieved but uncomfortable, stare silently at Carol Ann, who softly giggles and caresses her
bunny-off in a world of her own.
IT'S NIGHT TIME story by Steven Spielberg. Amendments-August 18, 1980 
August 8, 1980
It further concerns the epidemic spread through the suburban neighborhood of this malevolent
haunting. The carrier is the youngest daughter, (Carol Ann). Wherever she goes, "it" follows. The
film aims to trace the mental disintegration of this American nuclear family unit as well as the
psychological effects on an entire community, that ultimately sets off a vigil-anti action against
the Freeling family.
August 7, 1980
Nora is feeling very uneasy and tired from little sleep during the night. Steven has headed off for
work and the children, except for Carol Ann, are all off to school. Jim and Joannie Bender live
next door and are really the only close neighborhood friends the Freelings have. When the
housing tract was announced, they were the first two families on the list after camping out in
line for almost a week. A feat Nora now tends to regret. She telephones Joannie and asks if
she'd like to come by for a morning cup of coffee. Joannie indicates that it's a pretty busy time
for her, but before she finishes, Nora cuts in, edging on hysteria, almost begging. A little
alarmed, Joannie quickly agrees and the Freeling doorbell is ringing within minutes. Nora,
straining to be relaxed, gives her a big hug and talking a mile-a-minute heads for the kitchen
with Joannie in tow. Certain things in the house are still disheveled from all the activity during
the night. Joannie takes notice of this as she follows Nora to the kitchen. A concerned look
crosses her face as she knows Nora is a meticulous house keeper. Nora hands Joannie a cup of
coffee, and blurts out, almost in tears, "Joannie, could Steve and the kids stay with you and Jim
tonight?" Joannie immediately assumes that Nora and Steven are separating, hence the frantic
call. Nora immediately straightens that out but still avoids any discussion about ghosts. She
reveals that they believe there have been burglars in the area and they're all feeling a bit
uncomfortable staying there knowing they haven't been caught. Without hesitation from
Joannie, everything is arranged.
Steven arrives home after picking up the kids and finds Nora and Carol Ann patiently waiting in
the living room with bags packed. She then announces she has made arrangements with Joannie
and Jim for the family to spend the night at their house. Steven gets slightly irritated, feelinng
that Nora is over reacting but quickly agrees to have dinner, but not necessarily spend the night.
All the kids are delighted because the Bender children are close in age and they look forward to
one big party.
Following dinner, Lawrence suggests a game of charades. Nora and Joannie are in agreement
but set the bed time hour at 10:00 pm. After a mass flurry of stacking dishes and clearing the
table all the kids head to the living room, leaving the adults with coffee in the dining room. The
kids choose sides and begin acting out various movie idols, etc. We're aware of the adults
engaged in a loud political discussion and kids screaming clues, guesses, etc. We then focus our
attention to Angel Freeling as she begins giving her clues. A couple of periodic wisecracks from
her brother Sweeny and then out of nowhere, Angel freezes and glares into the fireplace with an
absolutely horrified expression on her face.
The laughter from the children stops instantly and we visibly see two of the children shudder
and slowly turn and look in the direction Angel is staring. The fire wavers slightly as if there was
a breeze. Then from upstairs in the bedroom the 19th Century music album can be heard full
blast as Angel screams and throws her arms back outstretched and fighting as if being tired to a
stake. Her face contorts in agony. She throws her head back and forth violently. All the children
in the living room are stunned and just stare, mesmerized. Angel cries out several times, "No
more fire! No more fire!" The violent jerking subsides for a moment as her eyes rise, still a
horrific look on her face, her hair slowly rises as if someone has hold of it and is going to scalp
her. Again she screams violently and her head drops limply in front of her. Her arms are still
outstretched but she's become more resolved to the pain now, almost unconscious. We are
aware that is has become a freezing temperature inside the room, frost has gathered on the
windows even though it is the middle of July outside. We then become aware of very faint
imprints of faces in the windows. Then writing starts to appear on the filmy condensation, like
finger painting. All the screaming has brought Steven and Jim into the living room. Steven enters
with an angry tone, "What the Hell..." his voice trails off as he sees Sweeny huddled in the
middle of the floor rocking Angel, trying to comfort and calm her. The other children, with teeth
chattering, still stare as if in shock. Steven and Jim's arrival breaks the silence. Carol Ann jumps
up and runs hysterically to her father. Steven scoops her into his arms at the same time that one
of the Bender children becomes aware of the faces in the windows, she screams, which sets off
a chain of reaction screaming. Then as quickly as it happened, it ends. The blaring music stops,
the frost runs off the windows. All the children are obviously shook. Joannie and Nora run in
with a flurry of questions. None of which has an audible answer from the children. Nora looks at
Steven, they realize the ghosts have followed them. 
Everyone has gathered with the kids in the kitchen to have warm milk and cookies to calm
everyone's nerves. Angel is back to normal with little sign of her ordeal. All the kids decide
they'll sleep in the living room except for the two youngest. Nora and Joannie are in fair
agreement to this as they head up the stairs with the little ones. The other kids get the sleeping
bags out and start rearranging the furniture for space. Lawrence Freeling is really impressed
with the Bender's new Advent TV screen. Johnny Bender runs through the remote control with
him and they loudly discuss how great the football games can be seen and they can't wait for
the season to start. Soon things settle down, the kids are set and the grown-ups head upstairs.
Half way up, Nora says "Ok, everyone quiet, it's way past bed time, lights out, no talking and no
watching television." After the "good-nights" and the periodic giggling subsides, the room gets
very quiet except for the usual night time creaks. About 30 minutes go by and we hear
Lawrence, "psst...Johnny, are you awake?" There's a moaning sound, then "yeah...what'd ya
want?" (Lawrence) "What time is it?" Johnny looks over at the big Grandfather clock on the far
wall. "It's 2:00 in the morning. Why are you still awake?" Lawrence ignores the question and
says "How do you turn on the TV...and make sure there's no sound." (Johnny) whispering,
"You're nuts, go to sleep, there's nothing on at this hour." (Lawrence) "Wanna bet? We've got to
get it just as it signs off." (Johnny) "You mean to tell me you like to sit and watch the snow or
something?" (Lawrence) "Something like that, you'll see." Reluctantly Johnny craws out of his
sleeping bag and over to the set; flips it on just in time to see the jets go by on the sign off.
(Lawrence), "Great, perfect timing." (Johnny) "Don't you think there's been enough weird shit
tonight?" (Lawrence) "Oh come on be a sport, just watch." The two boys crawl back into their
sleeping bags and with their chins resting on folded arms, they stare in great anticipation at the
Advent screen and the mass of static snow. Shortly we see both of the boys drift off to sleep
trying as hard as they can to fight staying awake with no luck. Just as they drift off, the images
that began to appear in the Freeling home begin to slowly take shape at the Benders. It's 3:00
am, the Grandfather clock chimes on deaf ears.
August 8, 1980
Carol Anne and her best friend, Jeanette are playing house upstairs in Carol Ann's bedroom.
They have dressed up in various old clothes of Nora's and some of her jewerly and hats. Tea has
been served though a minature little tea set which Carol Ann has obviously used often with all
the chips and cracks, etc. Both girls are talking a mile a minute to their dolls. Although this is
make believe, like any little girls six years old, they're playing very seriously.
Carol Ann wear an old hat of her mother's. On the left side holding up the netting is an antique
stick pin which Nora found at one of the local antique shops. The hat is obviously too big for
Carol Annand as she bends down to serve her doll some tea, the hat tumbles off onto the table.
Jeanette giggles, grabs the hat and puts it on her doll. Carol Anne, at that point, becomes very
serious, rises from the table and moves over to the record player. She then puts on the 19th
Century record; at exactly this moment, Jeanette begins gazing at the stick pin in the hat and in
slow motion she reaches out and removes it from the hat. Carol Ann, standing sternly and
motionless by the record player in the background. In the foreground, Jeanette takes the pin, as
if it were a buck knife and drives it slowly into the chest of her doll. She then removes her hand
leaving the pin embedded. At the head of the pin we reveal a carving of an Indian Fire God
(something to be established earlier in the story possibly). Then instantly, Carol Ann reels
around, confronts Jeanette and begins speaking like an adult (or perhaps in an Indian language),
all signs of being six years old are gone except for her physical appearance. Then looking straight
at Jeanette says "She must die." Jeanette turns from Carol Ann, pulls this pin from the chest of
the doll and with ferocity, drives the pin into the chest a second time. Carol Ann, still gazing in a
trance, looks at Jeanette, then the doll and the doll burts into flames. Jeanette, as if snapping
out of a dream, jumps back, startled and runs for the door. The door then bursts into flames.
Jeanette, terribly frightened now, begins to scream and cry. The door and the doll blazing away
brings Nora frantically up the stairs. Carol Ann up to this point has not moved. At the sound of
her mother's voice, she returns to her normal voice, "Mommy, mommy make the fire stop!" By
now, the neighbors have called the fire department. Fire trucks roar up to the house and a
ladder is quickly thrust up to the 2nd floor, bringing the girls to saftey. As the fireman descends,
he says under his breath, "oddest thing, only burned a doll and a door, didn't spread to any
other part of the house. Damnest thing I ever saw."
August 14, 1980
Toward the end of the picture, we should reveal that Carol Ann is beginning to "get to" Nora.
Nora has already felt trapped over the past few years. She married at a very young age. She's
bright and enthusiastic and has begun to voice her discontent to Steven. It's obvious that Carol
Ann was not a planned baby as noted by the ages of the other children.
Nora is sound asleep; it's her first night alone in their new house. Steven is on a three day
business trip. Even with the kids and the dog, Nora has always been a bit nervous without him
there. Carol Ann comes in after Nora has finally drifted off to sleep. She stands quietly by the
bed, then softly at first, "Mommy" pause..."Mommy"....pause. Nora wakes up. Groggily, "What
is it honey?" Carol Ann, "I got somethin' to tell you." Nora, "What honey?" Carol Ann, "I got
somethin' to say." Nora (getting a little irritated), "Then say it honey, I want to go back to sleep."
Carol Ann, "Can I get up on the bed to say it?" Nora, "Sure..." she pats the side of the bed, "Now
what is it you have to tell me?" Carol Ann climbs up and looking straight into her mother's face
but with a distant stare, she says "It's Night Time, It's Night Time...." Nora is visibly unnerved and
then windows above Nora's bed fly open; she screams. Sweeny comes running into the room.
Nora, slightly embarrassed but obviously feeling very distant to Carol Ann. "It's nothing," she
says, "Carol Ann just startled me, that's all." Sweeny, not quite sure what to make of the
situation, leads Carol Ann out of the bedroom. He looks in the door, after he's tucked Carol Ann
in, at his mother, smiles and says "You gonna be alright?" Nora, still a little unsettled, "Just fine,
see you in the morning. Just the jitters with your dad gone."
The next day, Nora tries to observe Carol Ann from a distance. Too many unexplained things
have been happening and Nora is beginning to doubt her own children. While doing relatively
routine chores, a thought comes to mind. She goes to the phone and calls information for a
locksmith. "Would it be possible to install a lock on a bedroom door today?" pause..."Oh thank
you. 3:00 this afternoon. Great." She hangs up. A look of relief crosses her face.
[the next page is missing]
Sweeny has fallen asleep in the rocking chair next to the bed. A thoughtful look crosses her
[Nora's]face as she grabs her robe and heads for the door. A huge back-hoe can be seen past the
gentleman at the door. "We've come to start diggin' the pool area, ma'am." Nora, with a slight
look of embarrassment, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I completely forgot it was Saturday-I"ll show you
around to the back yard." The door closes. As she comes back in, the rest of the family has come
to life, the record player is already full blast up stairs, Carol Ann transfixed herself in front of
Saturday morning cartoons. Nora exits the kitchen, where Angel has already started breakfast.
"Hi mom, I didn't know they were going to start digging the swimming pool today?" Nora, "I
totally forgot. I even forgot what day it was. God, I wish your father would come home." Angel,
"I can't wait for a pool." She can tell that Nora isn't really listening, her head buried in the
refrigerator. Angle (while turning the bacon), "Mom, what happened last night? I heard
screaming. Sweeny said you'd had a nightmare. It must have been terrible. Do you remember
any of it?" As she is saying this with her head still buried in the refrigerator, Carol Ann wanders
in, bunny in tow, and slides unnoticed under Nora's arm to peer in the refrigerator. Nora goes to
close the refrigerator, catches a glimpse of Carol Ann and lets out a blood-curdling scream. Carol
Ann, obviously frightened, drops to the floor and bursts into tears. Angel at this point also
screams and sends the spatula and bacon grease flying everywhere. Nora, more embarrassed
than anything, bends down to comfort Carol Ann, she looks up at Angel. A big grin spreads
across her face and they burst into hysterics. Nora:" I guess I'm still a little shook from last
Later that afternoon, nerves still a little frazzled, Nora mentions to Sweeny that it might not be a
bad idea for him to take the other kids to a movie that night. Sweeny is not overly thrilled about
the idea, but also senses the urgency in his mother's voice. He agrees and they all head off that
evening to see "Fantasia" at the local theater, leaving Nora and Elmer home for a quiet evening.
Nora is obviously relieved. She settles into a good book and a warm fire and we're aware that it
has begun to rain. She calls Steven and gives him a run down on the events of the day but
doesn't mention the series of events with Carol Ann. They discuss the new pool, Nora "With all
this rain, I hope we don't end up with too much mud for the cement to set in...when are you
due home? I really miss you. You know I hate staying in this house when you're not here." We
hear him mumble a response. Nora, "I know the kids are here and Elmer's right here keeping me
company but it's not the same...." They both say goodbye at the same time a deafening clap of
thunder goes off, startling Nora. It's now pouring rain. Nora flips on the television for some
company and heads to the kitchen for a cup of tea. Then Elmer begins to act very strange. He
sits staring at the wall as he's been known to do on occasion. At this point though, it makes Nora
nervous. She calls his name several times with no reaction. He then suddenly bolts for the
backdoor. She follows him and looks out into the pouring rain. She tries the outside light but the
bulb is burned out. Leaving the door slightly ajar, she grabs her tea and heads for the living
room. Very shortly afterward she doses off. She wakes with a jerking motion. She sits up, some
sitcom is blaring away with canned laughter, we still hear the pouring rain, she looks at her
watch, the kids will come home in an hour or two. Nora rises to stretch and suddenly out of
nowhere the 19th Century record album begins blaring away from Carol Ann's and Angel's
room. Noticeably disturbed and turning lights on as she goes, Nora heads upstairs to check. As
she slowly enters the bedroom, the arm of the stereo ejects over to the side and the stereo
shuts itself off. Nora nervously cases the room. Satisfied that it was nothing overly unusual as
the girls have left the stereo on before, she heads for her bedroom and gets ready for bed. She
stares at herself in the bathroom mirror. Slowly she reaches up and touches the dark circles that
have begun to appear under her eyes, she then pulls slightly at the corners as if remembering
what it was like without the little wrinkles that now appear there. Then she opens the cabinet,
pulls out the jar of cold cream and begins slowly removing the makeup from her eyes and face,
staring lethargically in the mirror. The tap water goes on and she begins rinsing her face with
several handfuls of water. As the splashing continues we see at the far left corner of the mirror a
very small trickle of blood begin to spread in very fine lines along the natural ridges in the glass
of the mirror. Her face covered with water she swings around with her eyes closed to grab a
towel. Dries her face and reaches over to turn on the facets in the bathtub. Still not noticing the
trickling blood on the mirror, she reaches underneath the sink for her favorite bubble bath. She
then climbs in the tub, pours plenty in for lots of bubbles. She then adjusts the force of water
from the taps, settles back, eyes closed and totally relaxed. As the bubbles begin to rise in the
tub (and for the first time in our frame) we see that they are pink in color. Nora, eyes still closed,
sees nothing. Moments later we hear Elmer barking up a storm. This rouses Nora. She opens her
eyes, sees blood now pouring from the faucet instead of water, screams and flies out of the
bath. As she grabs a towel she sees the mirror-hysterical, she runs to the bedroom and grabs her
bathrobe. By now Elmer is not only barking but whining as if hurt. Nora goes tearing downstairs
out the back door yelling "Elmer, Elmer.." It's raining so hard that Nora is soaked within seconds.
She hesitates for a moment and almost heads back inside, but Elmer cries again and she strains
to make out his shape in the distance. It's pitch black as she edges her way out onto the patio.
Suddenly the ground gives way and she plunges into the freshly dug pit for the new swimming
pool. She attempts to grab the side but the freshly tilled soil is now thick and gooey muck. Nora
sinks quickly up to her waist in the quick-sand-like mud. She sees one of the pool lights hanging
by a wire and struggling, tries to grab it. It has now begun to rain even harder and panic is
definitely beginning to set in with Nora. Desperately she grabs at the light wire, catches it and
pulls as hard as she can. At that moment, a wagon wheel comes tumbling through the mud
along with a sea of skeletons and mummies. One after the other she tries to push off them off of
her as they bob up and down out of the thick gooey mud falling in all directions. Many of the
skeletons have severed limbs, old bullet holes through the chest and head. Nora is beyond the
terror that allows you to scream and is consumed with panic. A bolt of lightning strikes very
close to the pool area and suddenly all the pool lights (just hanging by wires, no covers) go on,
illuminating this sea of decay. Nora finally gets out a loud scream which dissolves into sobs....we  
And here we have the pool sequence, finally added into the mix in a second or third major revision.  It more resembles the final outcome of the scene, with the description of the skeletons "bobbing," rather than pushing out like weeds, along with a coffin.  I can only imagine Hooper saw exactly what this scene would be like in his head from this initial point, no matter whether Spielberg wrote this, as Hooper would revert back to this treatment in order to realize this potent image of a "sea of decay," of a literal stew of dead things rather than the grinning "black-tie" ghouls of the final screenplay.
The kids coming out of the theater. Carol Ann is sound asleep in Sweeny's arms. Lawrence is
beside himself about the film. As they make their way back to the house, we hear bits and
pieces being reenacted by Lawrence. They all clamor inside the house, whispering and giggling
"Shh...Don't wake Mom." As a few houselights go on, we are faintly aware of streaked mud on
the carpet and hand prints on the wall. The children stare stunned and frightened. Sweeny
directs everyone into the living room. Carol Ann, who remains sound asleep, he stretches out on
the sofa. He motions to Lawrence and Angel to stay with Carol Ann. He then makes his way up
the stairs, following the trail of mud along the banister, hand smudges on the wall, mud
covering the door knob and light switch into Nora's room. Dresser drawers are thrown open, a
bathrobe covered in mud is draped on the bed. Sweeny then follows the trail into the bathroom.
Horrified by the bathtub full of blood, he jumps back and turns to run out of the bathroom. He
just catches a glimpse of the mirror as he smashes right into Angel (who had wandered up the
stairs in search of Sweeny), they both scream. Lawrence yells from down below. "What's
wrong?" Sweeny and Angel grab each other, Sweeny shudders and Angel begins to cry, "Oh
Sweeny, what's happened to Mom?" Comforting as best he can he leads her down the stairs
back to the living room. Carol Ann still sleeps soundly. Sweeny moves over to the picture
window and realizes Nora's car is gone. A bit relieved, he turns back to Angel. "The car is
gone...Mom should be alright. We gotta call Dad." He rushes to the phone and dials. Steven
answers the phone. Sweeny with a slight loss of control in his voice now, "Dad, oh God Dad,
you've gotta come home tonight!" pause, "No, Mom's gone." Pause, "I don't know but there
mud everywhere and blood," (he chokes a little bit), "It's awful, and we can't go to the
neighbors, they all think we're possessed." Long pause while Steven talks, Sweeny, "Ok Dad,
yeah they're all fine, we're in the living room, Carol Ann is sleeping," pause..."Bye...please
hurry." Sweeny hangs up the phone and looks into Lawrence and Angel's frightened faces, "He's
on his way. Everything's going to be OK. Dad said about an hour and a half, he'll try to call the
police but I'm sure they won't come..." Under his breath "they never believe us anyway."
Nora driving in a transfixed stare, headlights lighting her face from ongoing cars. We see that
her hair is caked with mud along with her arms and face. She pulls into a Motel 6 about 30 miles
outside of town, checks in, and immediately goes to call Steven. There's no answer. She dials
again, still no answer. She looks at her watch, it's 11pm. Frustrated, she grabs her bag and heads
across the street to a little local dive cafe called Indian Palms. She fumbles around with the
menu. Nothing looks very good, the page flips back revealing a historical overview of Indian
history in the area with a map and pictures from the early 1800's. Nora barely pays attention to
what she's looking at until she sees a small picture of a ghastly massacre, an artist's conception
of the actual event. She continues reading and realizes that the massacre took place at the exact
location of their sub-division. She stuffs the menu in her purse and peels out of the parking area
back toward town. We cut to the children at the house. All the younger children have dosed off,
Sweeny lies wide awake cocking his head at every sound. Finally he gets up and walks into the
kitchen. He opens the refrigerator and the light from inside spills onto the floor in front of him.
The storm front seems to be moving on and the pounding rain has turned into a howling wind.
He reaches in to grab some milk just as the wind gusts through the back door, then slams it shut
causing Sweeny to jump and drop the cartoon of milk. Sweeny moves toward the back door,
tries the light switch, nothing happens. He slowly opens the door, "Elmer, hey boy...where are
you?" He then sees pool lights, or rather an eerie glow emanating from the freshly dug hole in
the back yard. As he steps out onto the patio, cautiously moving toward the illuminated pit, he
gets within a few feet and a skeletal head emerges slowly over the edge. Horrified, Sweeny loses
his balance and falls backward into the mud along the edge. He quickly scrambles to his feet,
sliding across the patio and into the house, never looks back. He then slams the door shut and
locks it. He runs to the living room. He sees Carol Ann sitting up, her back to him. All we hear is a
humming lullaby. He moves around to the front of her. She doesn't look at him, only stares out
the window, singing to her bunny, "It's night time, it's night time..."Still panicked, he wakes the
other two kids, "C'mon we gotta go!" He looks at Carol Ann, hesitant at first, "You too, let's go."
He reaches out to grab her hand. She looks at him sternly and says, "No." Sweeny stares for
just an instant and then reaches over to pick her up. Angel steps in and says,"Here Carol Ann, I'll
hold your bunny." Carol Ann turns to both of them and in a low rumbling male voice says, "NO,"
then pulls the head off her bunny, stuffing flying everywhere. From Carol Ann's POV looking at
the shocked faces of Sweeny and Angel, we see a ghost fire burst into flames in the neighbor's
house and Jim and Joannie Bender come running out into the street. Then headlights come
through the living room window playing across the wall and over to Carol Ann's face. Sweeny,
Angel, and Lawrence turn to run toward the door and it too bursts into flame, just as we hear
Steven's voice from outside the door,"Sweeny, are you in there?" Sweeny terrified, "Dad, we've
got to get out of here. She'll burn the place down." His voice trails off as we hear a chair come
crashing through the picture window. Quickly Steve helps all the kids outside. He yells for Carol
Ann, Sweeny grabs his arm, "No!" he screams. "She should stay." Steven looks at Sweeny
dumbfounded. Just then, Nora drives up and comes running to the four of them. Steven starts to
go in after Carol Anne, Sweeny practically tackles him, "No Dad, please." Nora rushes over, "Oh
God, believe him he's right..."she buries her head in his chest. We look up and see Carol Ann get
up and walk slowly, still humming, toward the back door and out into the yard, moving toward
the pit. Steven and Nora grab the kids and head for the car. We then realize that ghost fires have
started throughout the neighborhood, even in those houses that have not yet completed
construction. People are running with few belongings to their cars, some screams and crying can
be heard.
Morning. We pan past a "No Trespassing" sign and reveal a huge digging site in progress. To end
similar to "The Birds," with no real answer in sight.  

This idea of the ending resembling The Birds in its evocation of "No answer" and a state of "non-finality" does exist in the final film, as it does in most ghost stories (if not on this scale of mass panic, thus the The Birds evocation).  The sense of passage from the suburban Sodom under reckoning to the anonymity of a highway's Holiday Inn is communicated in the script through a shot of a "Cuesta Verde" border sign, and it exists in the film as a limbo-like flight on pitch-dark highways, which is visualized through elegant Poor-Man's process shots that I wish were talked about more.  They resemble similar vivid process shots in Salem's Lot and The Funhouse.

"It's Night Time:" Final Set of Revisions
These final revisions to the treatment, dated August 23, 1980, change the "white settlers killed
by Indians" buried under the neighborhood to simply a regular grave yard that Steven's
company decided to build on top of. It also amps up the danger to Nora in the scene where she
is attacked by the ghost in her bedroom before running outside and falling into the newly dug
pool. Finally, it adds an early scene showing the changing of the TV set channels by unseen
forces (and also renames "Lawrence" to "Robbie").
August 23, 1980
Steven Freeling comes from a family of real estate brokers. His father was selling houses when
they were going for a thousand to five thousand dollars. Both of his brothers are still in business
with their Dad and Steven went out on his own. His reputation locally is one of the best. He now
heads up a huge firm responsible for the last five or six major land development in the area. The
broken on the area little over two years ago and families started to move in about 6 months
ago. Steven is in charge of showing the houses, clearing escrow, arrangements for personal
kitchen designs, etc. Approximately all the houses have been filled-it sits in the middle of several
other housing development and is separated by rows of poplar trees. A grave yard had stood
here for years which accounts for the delay in developing the area. Through a lot of
underhanded payoff with the Planning Commission, etc., Steven's company had gotten the ok to
build provided they moved the graves to another location. Realizing this would be wildly
expensive, they had publicized transferring the grave yard when in fact they simply moved the
grave stones to another location but covered the existing grave site with about seven feet of fill
and about a foot of dirt, quickly got the foundations laid and before anyone really knew what
happened, installed housing tract. Steven was never involved in the negotiations but served as a
representative in the community for the company, therefore becoming a target for the ghosts'
This sequence will begin with Nora combing her hair at the vanity-however, no one else is home,
Steven is on a business trip and the kids have gone to the movies to give Nora a little peace and
Fairly deep in thought, Nora combs through her hair in long slow strokes. Then without warning,
the brush lifts her hair from one side of her head and lays it down on the other. Nora stares in a
state of shock. Indentations from fingers can then be seen as if a hand is grabbing her face and
turning. Nora is still in a state of shock, unable to move. We then see her lips press in, her nose
shift off to the side a bit and we realize she is being kissed by a ghost. The indentations leave her
face and she sits shocked for a few minutes. Then in the mirror, she sees a human form take
shape from a smoke and gaseous material. Nora slowly rises from her chair and begins to move
toward the door. Staring at the smoke-like shape which is now dissipating, she reaches up to
turn on the bedroom light. Just as she switches it on, it immediately goes off. Quickly she turns it
on again and again something switches it off. She gasps a little and turns to run down the hall
and the stairs to the living room turning lights on as she goes but they go off as quickly as she
turns them on. She then turns on the television set which immediately goes off. She runs for the
phone, which is invisibly taken out of her hand and hung up. Truly frightened, she runs upstairs
again, half way up the stairs as if someone stepped on the back of her dress, she falls. We then
see a hand print as if something were gripping her ankle and it begins moving up her leg. Nora
stares for a moment in horror and then begins to resist, trying to pull herself up the stairs,
reaching desperately for the banister. As she breaks free she runs into the bedroom, the door
slams shut moments later and the smokey, gaseous form begins to appear again. We can only
see it with the moonlight streaming through the window. Nora sits shivering on the corner of
the bed with her hands crossed over her chest holding onto her shoulders. We're then aware of
the hand indentations again which grab her wrists and slowly but forcefully uncross her arms
and drop them to her side. Nora, under her breath, on the verge of tears says, "No, no please
don't hurt me..." As she says this, her night gown is slowly ripped off her shoulders and she is
pushed down on the bed. We then see the hand indentations grasp her breast with a strong
massaging effect and move down to her underwear which is gradually slipped back on the bed.
Not able to grab at any human form she takes hold of the sheets for leverage to try and get out
of the ghost's grasp. In the struggle she rolls off the bed, but we're aware that she still can't get
up. Her arms are suddenly thrown back straight over the top of her head and then her legs are
pulled apart forcefully, we can see on Nora's face sheer terror beyond the ability to cry. Then
the sheet over the top of them begins to rise up and down rhythmically, and several times we
see her face being kissed. Then the sheet falls away from her as if someone rolled over and took
the sheet with them. Nora, for an instant, stares at the sheet, then jumps up and runs for the
door grabbing her robe on the way out. She gets downstairs, grabs her purse and heads for the
front door. She takes hold of the handle and finds that she can't turn it. She pulls frantically to
no avail. She then runs for the back door, quickly switches on the outside light and runs out on
the patio. Finding it difficult to see, she runs into the patio table, and knocks a chair over just as
the outside light goes off. Now, truly horrified she starts backing out onto the lawn. A clap of
thunder goes off startling her, she turns and steps right into the freshly dug pit for the new
swimming pool. Another clap of thunder, a bolt of lightning and a huge downpour starts. The
freshly tilled soil turns into a gooey quick sand like mud very quickly. One end of the pool is very
steep and as Nora tries desperately to climb out the grade is so steep she slides back each time.
After the second or third slide, the mud is now up around her waist, another clap of thunder and
suddenly the pool lights come on. Nora looks around for a moment and suddenly we see areas
in the mud that start to rise up and then shafts of mud as the pouring rain hits these, we realize
they are skeletons, more and more bobbing to the surface, then again a bolt of lightening strikes
and short circuits the pool lights, causing a strobe effect. In sheer terror, eyes shut, Nora begins
screaming, clawing frantically trying to make her way to the shallow end of the pool. Just as she
nears the edge a hand reaches out to help her. With one hand resting on the pools edge and the
other in this hand, she looks up into the eyes of her ghost, a smoke like apparition. For the first
time, we can make out a human like face. Nora screams and goes sliding down back into the sea
of skeletons only to come face to face with the corpse of the ghost she just saw. The last image
we see is Nora huddled in the corner of the pool, strobe lights going and a sea of bobbing
skeletons, rain pouring down and occasional lightening and thunder.
Another revision page dated August 23, 1980
Steven sits in the living room one evening after a hard day's work watching Monday Night
Football with his two boys, Sweeny and Robbie (change name from Lawrence in previous
treatment). Just as the touchdown pass is thrown, the television goes to snow. Steven jumps up
furious and starts screaming at the neighbors. He runs over to Jim Bender's house, who is also
furious and finds that he thinks that Steven's remote control changed the channel on his set.
They argue fervently for a few minutes and Steven heads back to the house convinced now that
he will just move the TV somewhere else in the house as to avoid the neighbor's remote control.
During the night the television set clicks on and starts racing through the channels till it comes
to snow. This wakes Steven with a start. He jumps out of bed, throws on a robe and races over
to the neighbor's house. After pounding on the door, Jim Bender answers. Steven immediately
flies off the handle accusing him of disrupting the household. Jim seems a bit flustered saying he
was just about to head over to his house because his set went on voluntarily.
Steven sees this as just an excuse but concedes. This remote control duel continues for a few
days, until, one evening while the family is watching a late movie, the channels begin racing
around until they come to snow. Steven jumps up and races outside over to their neighbor's
house. Peeking through the window, he realizes they are gone. He tries the door several times
and walks around to the back of the house. He finds this a bit disquieting and heads back to his
house. As he turns his back, we are aware that the TV set in the neighbor's house clicks on, just
as we hear a scream from the Freeling home. Nora seems a little more unnerved as Steven
enters the house, insisting that some form came out of the television set. Steven passes this off
as her imagination, but doesn't let on that the neighbors weren't home to cause the channel
changing....thus begins the silent invasion of the Freeling home through the static snow of their
television sets. 
This final revision dated late August, I imagine they must have given Grais/Victor a few months to work on their version in script-form, and maybe by January, Spielberg was working hard to make it the accessible adventure story it wound up as. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Weird Art in the Films of Tobe Hooper

Weird Wall Art in the Tobe Hooper Film


A woman and small boy (with mandolin?).

Clothesline art.

The childlike dove drawing (can double as an angel).

The graphic mod art painting in the upstairs hallway.

Not "weird art," but an occasion to point out the carnival manager's cabinet of Catholic paraphernalia that exists prominently in his small trailer, seen behind him and Joey's parents.  In the same vein of "weird" paintings, it is certainly an artifact of our fleeting iconographic identifications we as human beings make, with which we, for reasons of status-stating and bourgeois obligatoriness, deign to put on our walls.  As ever-present as they are forgotten, dust-collecting.

The anti-symmetrical modern art mock fresco.

Three plates mounted on the wall, like a rigid embodiment of order and a three-branch system of equitability, constantly judging our protagonists.

Looking past the cluttered interior decor/3D textural art of Texas Chain Saw Massacre's farmhouse, the densely littered decoupage of pop culture adorning the children's walls in Salem's Lot and The Funhouse, the rock 'n' roll collage of K-OKLA's station, the symbolic pop-up fastenings of Lisa's apartment in Spontaneous Combustion and Barlow and Straker's morbid wall adornments, there is the weird wall art to be found in Hooper's films.

Looking past the space toys arrayed around the table, there is the painfully beige color block art behind the institutional men.

This never made much of an impression on me, but this expressively minimalist watercolor piece behind the befuddled guard is too pretty and plaintive not to appreciate it being there.

There are many things on the wall of the nurse's quarters, including weird art, in the same way the quarters of many characters in Hooper's film's walls are covered with their personality in strange and hodgepodge ways (one can even say the funhouse is this... but whose room would this be?  America's?).  But the weird art I'll focus on, due to its identifiability, is the Pierrot clown poster - a mainstay of 80s kitsch art.

Not necessarily "weird," but Hooper takes a thoughtful, isolated moment in the commentary of the Blu-Ray to point out the weird, tiny Mona Lisa reproduction at the right of the frame and how he appreciates its presence.

Finally, the art of Chevalier's home, a collection of maternal-themed, womb and loin favoring nudes, scattered throughout but never contextualized.  It's the most explicit implicit "weird" art.

If anyone has an ID on any of these artworks/artists, leave a comment!  Would love that.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Set Stories

I want to bring up set stories from crew members who purport Steven Spielberg was running the show and how one-sided these "evidence to the contrary" (on the issue of Hooper's validness on set) are.  I will also bring those up in conjunction with all other set stories we have, ones heard from actors, mainly.

Now the following is an interesting account, because it is from two different production members who always mention the presence of both Hooper and Spielberg as decision-makers on set, yet one is speaking on behalf of Hooper and the other is absolutely convinced Hooper could not have had a smaller role in what would turn out to be Poltergeist.

What we can use these accounts of the set for are a sort of comparison point for what we have heard from certain actors.

Now the veracity of the stories are anyone's guess, and, if to be believed at all, there is the issue of subjectivity and the failings of memory.

We begin with a story of the day Beatrice Straight, Martin Casella, and Richard Lawson were tasked to perform very technical, scientific dialogue and were not able to perform it until Spielberg rewrote it.

Source: The Poltergeist Fansite: "Who Really Directed 'Poltergeist'?
Another source who worked on the film told me: "In the beginning, Steven did occasionally yell action and say cut. Sometimes the actors got two different sets of directions from two directors. Sometimes they would be the opposite directions. After about three days of that, Beatrice Straight put her foot down and said she would only listen to one director. That was Tobe. After that, Steven was often on the set, but since he was prepping ET he wasn't there all the time. The only time I ever saw him really fight with Tobe was after an entire day of shooting a scene with Beatrice Straight and the other two scientists involving a great deal of gobblety-gook dialogue, Tobe just couldn't get the shot. Steven came onto the set and was very upset - there was a lot of ugly yelling - and Tobe just stood there taking it. Beatrice Straight, again the hero of the day, finally stood up to Steven, said that the dialogue (which I believe Steven himself had written for the scene) was unplayable and that Sir Laurence Olivier himself couldn't act such badly-written dreck. She made it very clear that Tobe was not to be blamed. Steven was very quiet and about five minutes later the cast and crew were all dismissed for the day. The next day the actors came back to the set and were handed new dialogue, which again I believe Steven had rewritten. It was 100% better and Tobe shot the scene in about an hour with no problem. But before shooting commenced, Steven got up in front of the entire cast and crew and apologized for the outburst and said Tobe was not to blame for the previous day's delays. It was one of the most generous, selfless and courageous things I had ever seen on a movie set. "

"BenThere" then disputed the particulars of the above recollection:

"I vehemently disagree with almost every detail recounted in that quote. I do not doubt your word that this person worked on the film - so, on that point, I stand corrected, but I believe I'm wrong ONLY on that point. As I said before: 'I'm just plain tired of hearing so much pure conjecture from the public - and so much pure BS from its principal players.' Certainly, my witness IS in the minority, as, to the best of my knowledge, no 'Poltergeist' cast or crew member has EVER publicly stated 'the whole truth and nothing but the truth' on the subject of its director. It may be said, that, in my many years of silence, I DID suppress the truth... but I most certainly DID NOT EVER perpetuate the falsities and outright lies as have so often been professed by many of our cast and crew."
Now, if you'll allow me to get personal here, I believe the red, bolded part of the first account, but in regards to the red, bolded part of the 2nd account - come on.  "BS from the principal players," as if they can deny what happened to them on the set, and "pure conjecture from the public," the exact reason Hooper has been the one suffering the most marginalization in regards to the film?  Cast and crew, going against their better instincts, lying on behalf of Hooper, really?  We're going to play the turning tables card?

Back to the first account, we cannot proclaim it absolute fact, nor that it isn't awash in enlargements, exaggerations, and outright fabrications (such as the more fractious elements in the story).  But we can corroborate this story as truth, as Martin Casella, the actor (now writer) who plays Marty, has put this story on the record, in the form of a podcast appearance on "I Was There Too":
(Casella) "When we shot that scene later, it's the scene where we're walking down a hallway and Richard Lawson says, "Oh, we observed a really amazing incident where the truck moved a quarter of the inch in five hours!" and Craig Nelson goes, "Uh-huh, uh-huh," and then he opens the door, and every toy in the room is flying through the air and jumping up and down.  Well, that scene originally had the most difficult to learn, scientific gobbledy-gook you'd ever heard.  And we shot it, and shot it, and shot it, and shot it, with Tobe going, "Well, try it again," and Beatrice Straight was almost pulling her hair out, and Richard and I would get tongue-tied, and finally, Steven finally had to come in and say, "You know, there's a problem."  And Beatrice Straight said, "We can't say this dialogue.  We literally can't say it.  It just makes no sense."  And Steven said, "Okay, fine.  Send everyone home and the scene will be re-written tonight"... He came back the next day... said, "We're back on track now," and we all read the dialogue and went, "Oh... oh yeah" and I think we got it in one take after that, because all the technical stuff had been taken out, so now it's just funny and punchy."
So the accounts are basically the same, save the juicier elaborations in the anonymous account that allege him or her seeing an angrier Spielberg and a more abused Hooper, as well as the supposed "apology" Spielberg gave.

As for the second witness, they are primarily disagreeing with the idea that Hooper ever became the dominant force on set, and asserting that anyone who says otherwise is under a grave misapprehension and marked by an inability to read critically the events on set.  But it turns out they are in fact in the dark about this hallway scene's shooting, corroborated by Casella; and, whether they simply missed that moment or not, they remain highly skeptical that Spielberg's blow-up, then apology, happened (which, given, is the most likely exaggerated part of the first witness's account).  The second witness continues on, never quite pinpointing the source incident of the first witness's story (he or she conjectures it may have been the dinner table exchange, or the researchers discussing things in the living room), but rather using this as a jumping-off point to discuss the day they do remember, in which they shot Richard Lawson sketching at the bottom of the staircase - a day that would prove an eventful one, in their caseI will quote it at length, not because I wish to dispute or confirm anything within it, but, taking it at its word, it can illuminate a little bit about Hooper and Spielberg's relationship on set, and perhaps Hooper's state of mind:
By phone, I've already contacted two other 'Poltergeist' crew members who, like myself, were present 'on set' each and every day of shooting. As well, like myself, neither recall any such exchange among Steven, Tobe, and Beatrice - and, believe me - it's almost impossible that all three of us would EVER forget (or never even hear mentioned) such a 'generous, selfless, and courageous' apology as is claimed to have been given 'the entire cast and crew"... by Mr. Spielberg, no less!!

Semi-Interesting Side Note: Based on my intimate familiarity with the making of "Poltergeist," I believe the claimed exchange of dialogue and subsequent apology could only have taken place in the Interior Freeling House Set (ie. - kitchen, dining room, living room, downstairs bathroom, and staircase with upstairs landing, hall and bedroom doors). Most likely it would have occurred sometime around our shooting the Dr. Lesh / Diane discussion as a tea pot slides across the dining table on its own power... or the scene where Ryan (Richard Lawson) is listening to music via headphones while, simultaneously, sketching his version of a ghostly apparition - even as he fails to notice that his scientific 'ghost image capturing' equipment is, also, stirring to action. What's 'interesting' here is twofold: Firstly, we shot both of those scenes on the same day. Secondly, it was the ONLY day that Mr. Spielberg was, IN FACT, 'very upset - (and indeed) there was a lot of ugly yelling.' Your source got that much right and I would never again see him SO vocally express his displeasure to anyone else. By the way... (geez, I almost forgot)... most interesting of all is this: He was not 'upset' with, nor did he 'yell' at Tobe Hooper. He was upset with... and he yelled at... ME!"

Certainly, it IS possible that Beatrice's objections, Steven's outburst to Tobe, and Steven's apology were known only to a select group of individuals and not to so large a group as was inferred by your source. What DID happen in witness of a large number of cast and crew was Steven's outburst to me. Let me be very clear on this point: Some directors, (too many actually) are, in fact, "reamer/screamers" and they can be easily agitated and/or moved to anger by even the smallest of problems or setbacks. Mr. Spielberg, however, is NOT among them. He is a most cordial person, but he is human, after all, and his emotional facilities are definitely intact.

For very practical reasons, the entire film, or quite nearly the entire film was storyboarded.
In purely artistic terms, the action as depicted in "Poltergeist's" storyboards was quite simple in nature... almost cartoonish. (This is not to slight our, then, storyboard artist, Ed Verreaux, who is now a production designer. His sketches were drawn in the style and manner of Steven's request.) In the earlier stages of preparing "Poltergeist" we were told the storyboards should not be taken too literally - they were not "the bible," then again, neither was the script, but I digress. The storyboards were most useful in keeping the entire crew 'all on the same page' and they provided a good deal of information as to how Steven wanted the film to be shot, especially in terms of his preferred camera angles, lens sizes, and camera movements.
This is interesting, to me.  The debate over how much of Spielberg's influence can be attributed to his heavy involvement in storyboarding - or if Hooper collaborated extensively on the storyboards and exerted his own influence there - we can put aside, but I'd like to just say that Poltergeist is something of a "simple" film... and it is simple in the way many Hooper films are "simple."  Think Jaws, Duel, 1941, and Close Encounters and notice how elaborate are their set-pieces and how particular their sense of graphical montage.  Poltergeist is simple, simple, simple, in comparison, and it's so interesting that a crew member who became intimate with the film's storyboards would go so far as to call the storyboards "cartoonish" - I would say due to this simplicity.  This is because Poltergeist was not a "classy" genre picture the likes Spielberg had made, where the New Hollywood realism of the characters and drama matched the elaborateness of the cinema, the technical precision of the camera manifested from shots laid-out and long-planned.  Poltergeist was so simple, and it was storyboarded as such, because it was, in Spielberg's eyes, a horror cartoon... With set-ups so basic as a shot of a tree outside the window and a tree arm grabbing a little boy...  Thus, the onus was on Hooper to bring the sense of texture and reality to the simple cartoon that this picture existed as in storyboards.  It's baffling the importance people will give to the storyboards in order to claim Spielberg's influence, but it is rather the greatest evidence of the barest parameters Hooper worked with in order to make a decidedly un-Spielbergian film.  He had Spielbergian blueprints, and it's from there that Hooper's imagination is allowed to soar.  Is that not what directors (non-writer/directors) do?  He has a location, he has an idea of the story and what needs to be shot, and he let his inspirations take him from there.  Yes, he followed the plans of his producer and his cinematographer a lot of the time - when it coincided with his vision of things - but when he was given a drama to stage, he would see things to his liking.  This is why the Living Room scene is so effective, because you can tell Hooper feels the freedom to stage the scene as he sees fit, without the restrictions of tree puppets and budgetary concerns.
 Twenty five years later, I have yet to work another film that was so completely storyboarded as was "Poltergeist." The combined bulk of the storyboards made them almost twice as thick as the script itself and a steady stream of changes to both required our constant and diligent upkeep. As our remaining number of prep days decreased, emphasis on our knowledge of (and, therefore, the importance of) those storyboards increased. In short, it turned out that, sometimes, those storyboards WERE considered "the bible."
What a limited perspective this is, that just because storyboards exist, it must negate the presence of an individualistic artist on the set.  This is the great "automation versus human will" debate.  Poltergeist is almost a story of defeat to the impersonality of automation, given how much critics will describe its mainstream sheen and impersonal nature, but there is more than enough of Hooper's human spark to overcome a triumph of mass production.
No more than a couple or three weeks before we began shooting, I was forced to inform Tobe the limitations on some of the technical equipment to be used in the film. I also confessed a lack of certain expertise on my part as well. Tobe was actually quite gracious and accomodating. He asked if his cutting the scene - in a place where neither the script nor the storyboards called for a cut - would solve my problem. Indeed, it would, and by his agreeance to do just that, I was greatly relieved.

Only days into our shoot, however, as we began to rehearse that scene it suddenly dawned on me that neither Tobe nor myself had ever made Steven aware of my problem and our agreed upon cut. My greatest fear was realized then as Steven's blocking of the scene did not allow the cut that I'd been assured of. I looked over at Tobe and he just raised his hands and rolled his eyes as if to say, "Hey... tell Steven your problem... I ain't directing this thing!" At that point, it became my distinct and very unfortunate task to tell Steven that I could not accomodate the shot he wanted to do. Quite frankly, I fully expected a swift and harsh reaction to that news... and, geez-louise... did I ever get it! I won't detail his exact words or the heated manner in which he communicated his thoughts, but, in essence, he wanted to know why I had failed to accomplish something that had been in the script AND in the storyboards for some three months.

In the moment, I did not take his wrath well... but I took it. Later that day, I had occasion to return that disfavor to him in nearly the same tone and in, exactly, the same words. Like I said before, you CAN argue with Steven... but you damn well better have good reason. If you don't have good reason, however, well you damn well better be nothing short of RIGHT!"

[I asked: And I'm assuming the shot in question involved Ryan making the pencil sketch while the camera tilts up toward the stairs...?]

"That is correct."
So: Spielberg was a harsh taskmaster who wanted certain elaborate shots.  A more-completely Tobe Hooper-Poltergeist would not have had that shot of the camera tilting up from Ryan to the top of the staircase.  Honestly, it's a shot I can do without.  It might have been more interesting without such a showy shot that so underlines its expensiveness.  Hooper and I seem to share the same sense of priorities when it comes to cinema.

But let's move on to the fact that this crew member offers an example of Spielberg's totalitarianism and of Hooper's demureness (and, let's admit it, his cowardice in the face of altercation, something which, understandably, must have miffed this individual greatly, and I cannot say I would not have felt rebuffed in the same way) as evidence of why this is a Spielberg film and not a Hooper film.  But soap opera antics are one thing, and the substance of a collaboration and partnership is another.  Hooper cannot be scrub-washed out of this film just because he shrank from a fight at one moment, or just because Spielberg was responsible for certain money shots that were more or less superfluous?

And let's be clear, Hooper did not say, "I ain't directing this thing."  That was pure projection on behalf of the individual, onto Hooper's betrayal/throwing of him under the bus.

Let's hear a little more of what Casella says about the Poltergeist set in the "I Was There Too" podcast:
CASELLA: "There's obviously the question you may or may not ask about the "directorial" [etc.]... and my answer always says, Tobe always directed my scenes.  Steven was always there, because he was the producer, and he shares co-screenwriting credit on the film." 

Host, Matt Gourley: For the listeners, there's been some controversy as to whether Spielberg or Tobe Hooper directed this, because he was contractually obligated to do E.T., but wanted to do this, but then had to give it over to Tobe Hooper, correct.

"That's... basically correct.  I guess." [ed.: I mirror Casella's noncommittal affirmation.  I actually think it's largely untrue.  Poltergeist was always intended for Hooper.  If Spielberg ever desired to go back on his offer, this was never publicly deliberated.]

Host, Matt Gourley: So he was present on the set, but you're sort of saying that, Tobe Hooper, he handled the reigns.

"Yeah.  As far as I was concerned, I was there for five weeks of... whatever the length of the shoot was, and then I came back and had to do reshoots later - which were actually overseen by Frank Marshall, who was one of the producers..."


Host, Matt Gourley: So then we'll consider the Spielberg-Hooper thing settled for today's purposes, 'cause I think everybody talks about that.
And, to that that last remark, I must concur and ask, WHY is this the case?  When all the evidence you have stares you in the face, of a set filled with warring voices, but one in which Hooper is always - always, whether according to accounts coming in defense of Hooper or not - mentioned to be present?  Why must he be scrubbed of his authorship because he emulates the style of his producer, who would have made a film far different and more stylized left to his own devices, without a director to stopper him?

Back to the "I Was There Too" interview:
"Steven was the one who shot that sequence [Marty getting bitten in the children's bedroom], because it was technically an insert.  Like in Raiders, when I was a PA on Raiders and things, and Steven's assistant... Frank Marshall shot some of that.  That's how movies work, for anyone who knows how movies work."


"He said, "Don't worry, with the special effects and the ILM guys, they'll make it something sparkly," or, I don't know, whatever ghost saliva looks like.  So... it was very, very painful.  That's all I remember.  And then they lowered me back down and Steven was like, "Good guy"... but at that point, I'd knew Steven for three years, and we were laughing, and he said, "Great, great, great," and "You're all done, terrific."  And, later on, when they were doing post-production on the movie... I can't remember who called, if it was Steven, or Kathleen Kennedy, or Frank, or somebody... and said, "We're just giving you a head's up -- you're in the movie, don't worry, there's no way to cut you out!"  And friends of mine who had no idea, they were like, "Oh, will we see you in the movie?  Do you have a line?"  And I'm like, "Well, I'm in the movie for, like, 45 minutes... Yeah, you'll see me... don't worry..."  Because we'd already done the looping by then.  That's when they told me, it was at the looping session."

"They told me that-- that's when it was, I remember now, they told me that day.  They said, what happened is that, JoBeth Williams's acting was so amazing in that scene that was happening simultaneously to what I was going through... it was when she says, "Oh my God, she went through me, I felt her soul!"  Steven said, "We couldn't find a way to cut away to you because it would have ruined that really beautiful moment."  And I was like, "Okay."  And so they gave me a couple stills."

"The thing I want to say about JoBeth Williams, in addition to how amazing she is, she is one of those actors - I don't know if she's still that way or not - that she had such... she carried that movie, basically.  She had all the hard stuff to do.  She had effects to do, she had to be the loving mother, she had to be funny, and she basically had to spend the last part of the movie screaming, in a bathtub, a ghost dragging her around the room.  She was, very, very, very focused.  And, for some of the time, it was one of those performances, which we all hear about, where it was basically, the AD would go, "Kind of leave JoBeth alone.  It takes her a lot of time to prepare."  And when you see the results, you'd understand why.  That scene where she says, "I felt her go through me."  I got to see that, I was there when she shot that.  I mean, some of the people were in tears, she was so wonderful."
This is very true about JoBeth Williams as Diane.  ... I also lose the fantasy that Casella and Spielberg were off shooting the beast biting scene while Hooper was filming the entire Living Room sequence alone, if in fact Martin was present to see Williams perform the "Went through my soul" moment.

Now what we can gather from these set stories is a sense of an egalitarian, multilateral set between director and producers (as well as all other technicians and craftspeople present, and even actors, like the very focused JoBeth Williams).  This is also suggested from some of producer Frank Marshall's more avuncular comments about Hooper's presence, often hinting at someone just learning the ropes and needing too much of a push when it comes to an enormous production like this.  So what we have is something of a portrait of Hooper as a new, green camp counselor, in a sort of "summer camp" of big-budget movie-making, with Spielberg being the most knowledgeable counselor and Hooper sometimes fumbling in his attempt to assert himself.  Hooper, then, was learning all the duties of a counselor/director: using tight shot lists, luxurious schedules in which you can devote hours on a single shot, and how to work within these parameters while being true to your vision of things.  Or we can say Hooper was even just a camper in this workshop atmosphere of the Poltergeist set, in which all children get to learn their trade.  Hooper's trade was directing.  Even a toddler on a play-set with big boys playing around him is still one that is playing and creating, between him and the play-set, a relationship between human and his workplace and tools; even an apprentice forging his first metalwork is still the one forging.

So all accounts, pro-Hooper or anti-Hooper, cannot say Hooper was not on the set.  And almost all actors says he was the primary decision-maker.   The way to reconcile all the divergent perceptions of the set is thus: Spielberg made his presence known.  Hooper was always acquiescent to the reality of Spielberg's opinionated producing.  People don't understand the priorities of an artist.  Hooper, in his own head, was always making his [own] film.