Welcome to the 2020 Halloween Edition of Saturday Night Movie Sleepovers! J. Blake and Dion Baia are going way back to 1982, and unpacking this groundbreaking but sometimes forgotten horror movie classic, the Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg extravaganza, Poltergeist ! The boys analyze the many conspiracy theories and controversaries surrounding the film, while talking about the novelization which is jammed packed with supplemental information and binary storylines that did not make the final movie cut. It’s all going down on this all new, exciting and fun installment of Saturday Night Movie Sleepovers!
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I recently discovered your podcast and have been really enjoying it. I saw Poltergeist in the theater when it can out (I was 13). If you don’t mind me posting here, these are a couple things that I was reminded of while listening.
A controversy that I had read about in Cinefantastique from Nov ‘82, was that Paul Clemens (star of The Beast Within), was suing Spielberg for $37M because Poltergeist contained numerous plot points of a script that his agent had submitted to Spielberg in January of 1980. Clemen’s script had been registered with the Writer’s Guild on 9/7/79. Clemen’s script was a haunted house story that featured a young family (mother, father, older daughter, middle son, and youngest daughter). The youngest daughter is taken by the house and hidden away somewhere in its structure. There was also a tree that comes to life, a closet that looks like a pink esophagus, and a finale where dead bodies of people who had drowned in the swamp upon the house was built, come up through the floor boards. Spielberg denied ever receiving the script. I never heard anything else about the case.
It was cool to hear you mention the story about Night Skies, as I don’t hear many folks talk about it. I had been interested in Night Skies since I had first read about it in movie magazines back in the 80’s (I was a huge Rick Baker fan as a kid). Night Skies was originally going to be produced by Spielberg and was slated to be directed by Ron Cobb (production designer for Alien, Conan the Barbarian and many others) and the screenplay was to be written by John Sayles.
Baker was awarded the contract to create the five aliens (reduced from 11 in the original story). Spielberg wanted the aliens to be unlike anything that had been seen on screen before, in terms of realism, and Baker set up a separate crew to start the R&D work (his other crew was working on American Werewolf at the same time, with Baker overseeing both crews). Baker created complex full body puppets that worked off a slave system, where the operator wore an exoskeleton which allowed his movements to control the corresponding movements of the alien puppet. Everyone who saw the test footage ( including Spielberg) was totally blown away and Baker thought it was his best work to date and a total game changer. As you know, Spielberg had a change of heart while working on Raiders and when he told Baker that he was changing the story 180 degrees, Rick got upset and said that it was going to be like starting over and that would have a negative impact on American Werewolf. Spielberg got pissed, fired Baker and shut down his shop. Baker was forbidden to release any pictures of his work. Later, on Harry and the Henderson’s, Spielberg explained to Baker that he had been mad that Baker wasn’t more excited about ET.
I also have the Poltergeist issue of Cinefex magazine which has a 40 page article about the film’s effects. Based on the numerous interviews with the many FX technicians in the article, it certainly comes across like it was Spielberg who was calling all the shots as to how the effects would look. Hooper is barely mentioned in the entire article. BTW, it was Spielberg’s hands reaching up into frame and pulling the flesh off of the face in the bathroom.
Thank you so much for such a detailed reply, and the story. Yes, we’d heard some of that controversy too. Sadly it makes you wonder if some of it was overshadowed then by the Twilight Zone tragedy. All very sad. And we LOVE Rick Baker. Ha. Thanks so much for listening, and we hope you continue to enjoy what you’re hearing.:)