“One stormy night long ago, five people stepped through the door of an elevator and into a nightmare. That door is opening once again, and this time, it’s opening for you.”
The Hollywood Tower Hotel opened for business in July 1994 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s the home of the Tower of Terror attraction, which is based upon Rod Serling’s television series, The Twilight Zone.
Utilizing numerous Twilight Zone audio samples, Serling tells the story of the closure of the Hollywood Tower Hotel back in 1939:
A violent thunderstorm has enveloped the building and grounds. Inside the hotel, guests (Hollywood elite including a child actress modeled after Shirley Temple and a bellhop) enter the elevator to ascend to their rooms. Unfortunately, lighting strikes causing an entire wing to vanish. The elevator drops rapidly and crashes, sending all five people into the Twilight Zone.
We return to the present, on a stormy day similar to the one that sent the fateful five into the Fifth Dimension. Serling explains that the only elevator in the hotel still in working condition is the maintenance service elevator located in the basement at the boiler room. Guests are invited, “if they dare”, to board the elevator and discover the secret of the Hollywood Tower Hotel…
The attraction is featured at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney California Adventure, Tokyo DisneySea and Walt Disney Studios Park. The American and French versions are basically the same, while the Tokyo version has an entirely different story.
July 22, 1994: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The distinctive architectural features on and around the attraction’s roof were designed so that the rear facade, which is visible from Epcot, would blend seamlessly with the skyline of the Morocco Pavilion. The ride’s slogan is “Never the Same Fear Twice!”, as each drop pattern is auto-selected, by a computer, before the ride begins.
May 5, 2004: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opens at Disney California Adventure. Each shaft has two vehicles and two loading levels designed so that the lower vehicle can be in profile while the upper vehicle is loading, making the attraction much more efficient. Because the dark ride portion of California’s tower takes place in the drop shaft, the physical vertical vehicle conveyance system can move much more nimbly than DHS’s version. But, due to the use of a dual elevator per shaft, this version does not have a randomized drop sequence resulting in an identical ride regardless of which floor passengers board on. The elevator rises to the top of the tower, shudders, and falls to the bottom of the shaft to the area in between the two loading floors (to assure each ride is identical) before the elevator returns to its load level and is horizontally pushed back into place at the boiler room service doors. The 183-foot structure is the tallest attraction at the resort, as well as one of the tallest buildings in Anaheim.
September 22, 2006: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opens at Tokyo DisneySea. The Tokyo version, which features an original storyline, takes place in the Hotel Hightower. The attraction’s facade is an example of Moorish Revival architecture and is located in the American Waterfront area close to the S.S. Columbia. The ride system for this version is similar to that of the Disney’s California Adventure and Walt Disney Studios Paris versions.
The story follows the adventures of the hotel’s famous builder and owner, Harrison Hightower III, who completed many expeditions around the world and has collected thousands of priceless artifacts. One of the artifacts he brings home is an idol of Shiriki Utundu. On New Year’s Eve in 1899, Hightower holds a press conference in which he boasts about how he acquired the idol and dismisses the claims by the natives of it’s curse. Upon leaving the party, he enters the elevator to return to his private,penthouse apartment when the idol comes to life. The idol’s rage and power cause the elevator to plummet and crash on the ground floor. When the doors were pried open, only Hightower’s hat and the idol were recovered. In 1912, a New York restoration company reopened the hotel, due to its historical significance, ignoring the rumors that it is haunted. The ride commences as guests embark upon a “tour” of the reopened hotel.
December 22, 2007: La Tour de la Terreur – Un Saut dans la Quatrième Dimension (The Tower of Terror – A Jump into the Fourth Dimension) opens at Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris. The attraction is the same as the version in California with the exception of the presentation being dubbed in French with English subtitles.
Nods to The Twilight Zone:
- DCA, in a glass case is a gold thimble accompanied by a card that reads, “Looking for a gift for Mother? Find it in our Gift Shop!” This is a reference to the Twilight Zone episode “The After Hours.”
- DHS, there is the book titled To Serve Man from the episode of the same name.
- DCA, envelopes with the names Rod Serling and Victoria West can be found in the libraries, “A World of His Own.”
- DHS, a trumpet from “A Passage for Trumpet” can be seen in the display while exiting the libraries.
- DCA, a broken stopwatch is displayed with a card that reads, “A great conversation piece. Available in our gift shop.” from “A Kind of Stopwatch.”
- DCA and WDSP, chalk marks on the walls and a girl’s voice calling out for help from the wall and the radios around the boiler room are from “Little Girl Lost.”
- DHS and DCA, the Mystic Seer machine from the episode “Nick of Time” can be seen sitting on the high shelf.
- DCA, a door in the lobby is numbered “22”, from episode “Twenty-two”.
- DHS, DCA and WDSP, near the door to the boiler room is a shelf with a row of tightly packed books. Each of these contains a Twilight Zone episode script.
- DHS and DCA, elevator plaque that says the last time the elevator was checked was by Mr. Cadwallader, the deal maker from “Escape Clause.”
- DHS, the slot machine from “The Fever”.
- WDSP, display cases on the ground floor contain advertisements for things like “Housemaid Wanted”, a reference to “I Sing The Body Electric”, while at DCA a Popluar Mechanics magazine nods to the episode.
- DHS and DCA, look for a pair of round-rim glasses on a stack of books in reference to “Time Enough At Last”. An ad for “A Pair of Reading Glasses Wanted” is used in WDSP.
- DHS, DCA, and WDSP reference “The Invaders” with the spaceman on display.
- DHS, the ventriloquist dummy “Caesar” from the Twilight Zone episode “Caesar and Me” is in a display.
- DCA, a display case contains two items relating to the “A Thing about Machines”. One is a typewriter (with the GET OUT OF HERE FINCHLEY message) and a card that reads “Almost Writes By Itself.” The second is an electric razor with a card reading, “Has A Long Cord – Can Follow You Everywhere.”
- DCA, red toy telephone from “Long Distance Call” with a card saying, “Perfect for the children’s room and those late night calls from Grandma.”
- “Picture If You Will…”, a phrase Rod Serling used in more than one Twilight Zone episode, appears in the gift shop where guests can buy their on-ride photo.
- DCA, a display window for “Willoughby Travel,” from “A Stop at Willoughby.”
- DCA, a poster advertising “Anthony Fremont’s Orchestra.” Anthony Fremont is the young boy with god-like powers from the episode “It’s a Good Life.
- DCA, a burgundy-colored camera in a display case from “A Most Unusual Camera”
And some more fun facts:
- The elevator reaches a top speed of 30.7 miles per hour!
- Otis Elevator Company and Eaton-Kenway both helped create the ride system. This unique elevator moves vertically as well as horizontally.
- In order to achieve the weightless effect, cables attached to the bottom of the elevator car pull it down at a speed slightly faster than what a free-fall in gravity would provide.
- The cars are able to accelerate 10 short tons – 15 times the speed of normal elevators.
- It can reach top speeds in less than 1.5 seconds.
- The torque provides the ability to decelarate the cab and move in the opposite direction so smoothly that riders sometimes don’t know if they’re going up or coming down.
- The motors are twelve feet tall, seven feet wide and thirty-five feet long. They had to be lifted into place with cranes – then the building constructed around them.
- At all rides, except Tokyo’s, the preshow includes the little girl holding a Mickey Mouse plush toy.
“The next time you check into a deserted hotel on the dark side of Hollywood, make sure you know just what kind of vacancy you’re filling. Or you may find yourself a permanent resident… of the Twilight Zone.”
And one last thing – Disney attractions are for families, here’s mine enjoying the DCA version last month. We are in the front row, left side. My daughter and my dad are first time riders. I think everyone had a screaming-laughing good time. (Especially Dad, who is clapping.)