Stephen King offers the reasoning behind him turning down the chance to work on the script for Poltergeist with Steven Spielberg. When it comes to iconic figures within pop culture, few have made imprints as large as King and Spielberg. King is of course the “master of horror,” and both one of the most prolific and best-selling authors of all time. His works have also been adapted dozens of times for both film and TV. Meanwhile, Oscar-winner Spielberg is the highest grossing film director of all time, and has helmed countless classic movies.
While Spielberg isn’t necessarily known for being a horror filmmaker, he’s certainly dabbled in the genre on occasion. One such dabbling came in the form of 1982’s Poltergeist, one of the best-remembered fright flicks of that decade, even while sporting a PG rating. While Spielberg didn’t nominally direct Poltergeist – that job officially went to late Texas Chainsaw Massacre helmer Tobe Hooper, although multiple cast and crew members have since asserted that Spielberg directed at least a good portion of the proceedings – he produced the film, came up with the initial story, and wrote the actual screenplay alongside Michael Grais and Mark Victor.
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What many fans of King, Spielberg, or Poltergeist may not be aware of is that Spielberg initially wanted King to collaborate with him on the script for the now classic tale of displaced spirits invading the lives of a suburban family. Unfortunately, King had to pass on the project. During a recent chat with EW, King explained that things “didn’t work out because it was before the internet and we had a communication breakdown.” “I was on a ship going across the Atlantic to England,” says King, and by the time he was able to reply to a message from Spielberg, the director had moved on to working with Grais and Victor.
For his part, Spielberg told EW that “I wanted [King] to help me out with the script and sort of write it with me, but he was unavailable.” That certainly tracks well with King’s statements above. One wonders what influence King might have ended up having on the Poltergeist script, should he have wrote it with Spielberg. While King would likely have brought some darker ideas to the table than Spielberg, King is also known for his love of sentimentality and tendency to celebrate the wonders of childhood, a trait he shares with the director of such films as E.T. and Hook. In that way, their co-written script may not have ended up all that different from what was ultimately made.
Despite their respective ages – King is 70, while Spielberg is 71 – neither is showing signs of calling it a career and going away anytime soon, so perhaps one day a real collaboration between the two will finally happen. Spielberg has been trying to get a film adaptation of King’s (and Peter Straub’s) novel The Talisman off the ground for years, with The New Mutants’ Josh Boone being brought on to pen a draft of the script last October. Whether Spielberg will end up directing at this point is anyone’s guess, but he did tell EW that he’s “hoping to get this movie made in the next couple of years.” For now, fans can only wait and see.
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