For generations children and adults alike have been visiting fairs and amusement parks in search of new forms of entertainment and thrills. Since the 1950s Disney has been a leader in the amusement park industry and to this day they continue to imagineer and create a large variety of new and uniquely themed rides unlike those found in any other amusement parks worldwide.
One of the most thrilling and exciting rides attached to the Disney name is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This drop tower ride is found at 4 of the Disney Theme Parks; Disney's Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney Studios Park, Disney's California Adventure, and Tokyo DisneySea.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is one of the few Disney park attractions aimed specifically at bigger kids, teenagers, and adults and is also one of the few to include a height restriction. The ride was first introduced at Disney's Hollywood Studios in July 1994. The phenomenal success prompted the makers to install the ride at other venues. In May 2004, the next Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was opened in Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, CA. After that, Tokyo DisneySea opened it's own “Tower of Terror” in September 2006, and in 2008 The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened in Paris at the Walt Disney Studios Park.
Story and Concept
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride takes place in the Hollywood Tower Hotel which is modelled after the historic Hollywood landmark known as the Hollywood Tower. Loosely based on some elements of the popular TV series The Twilight Zone, the storyline of the ride involves the supernatural events which took place at the Hollywood Tower Hotel on a stormy Halloween night in 1939. When lightning struck the hotel, the passengers in one of the elevators are transported into the Twilight Zone along with a section of the hotel. When guests to the Tower of Terror ride enter into the main lobby of the hotel, there is a lot of theming done to truly put you in the moment. Guests can observe a copy of the Los Angeles Examiner from October 31, 1939, as well as stale foods, suitcases, and a broken elevator behind the front desk, all of which are covered in dust and cobwebs. There is also a thunderstorm happening outside which guests can see by looking out the lobby windows.
Guests are informed that their rooms are still being prepared for their arrival but to wait in the library. While in the library lightning strikes and an old television turns on, showing the opening of a Twilight Zone episode created especially for the attraction. The episode explains the unnatural occurrences that prompted the closing of the hotel in 1939. They are then informed that a similar plot is unfolding now, but this time the guests are the ones involved. It is also mentioned that the main elevator is not currently running, but if they dare the service elevator in the boiler room is at their disposal. When the passengers go on board the elevator, they will be impressed by the details of the structure as well as the bellhop uniforms worn by the cast members which exude the spirit of the 1930s.
In Tokyo, the attraction is based on the mysterious disappearance of eccentric billionaire Harrison Hightower III while riding the elevator at Hotel High Tower. The design is based on Moorish Revival architecture and the story of the attraction is more complicated. It’s based on the adventures of Harrison Hightower, who went on expeditions all over the world, bringing back a variety of artifacts. In one expedition, the natives refused to part with their idol Shiriki Utundu, and cursed him. On December 31, 1899, Hightower was throwing big party to boast his invincibility, and insulted Shiriki Utundu by putting out his cigarette on its head. Near midnight, Hightower took the elevator to the top of the hotel, and the angry Shiriki Utundu appeared, zapping Hightower and the elevator, causing it to fall to the bottom. When rescue workers finally forced the door open, only the idol and his hat were found.
Technical Facts and Details
The Tower of Terror ride uses technology that was specifically designed to create a frighteningly realistic experience. When designing the ride, Disney imagineers wanted to find a way to create a truly weightless effect for guests. They achieved this by attaching cables to the bottom of the elevator shafts that will actually pull them down quicker than a free fall. The motors are quite large and weigh an excess of 132,000 pounds. The motors used to propel this elevator move around 15 times faster than normal elevators.
An interesting and notable detail of the ride is that the ride is able to move in and out of the elevators horizontally, in order to transport passengers into the "Fifth Dimension" scene and into the drop shaft. The ride is automated so that the experience is different each time a guest rides it.
Differences from Park to Park
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the original attraction. The California Adventure version is a little bit different. There are three elevator shafts each with their own ride and system. In case one shaft breaks down, operations can continue with the other two elevators. Each shaft has two load levels and vehicles. Due to its tremendous success, this version is duplicated in Tokyo and Paris.
The Paris version uses concrete for construction rather than steel due to construction guidelines. Sections of the audio were translated to French for better understanding and includes separate French and English introductions.
Twilight Zone References
At each of the Tower of Terror attractions a variety of references to the Twilight Zone television series can be found. In a display case at Disney's California Adventure, there are two items from the show. One, a typewriter with a card next to it saying, “Almost writes by itself” and an electric razor with a hard that reads "Has A Long Cord - Can Follow You Everywhere." Also at Disney's California Adventure, there are chalk marks on the wall in reference to the “Little Girl Lost” episode. Also, the lobby has a door with the number “22” on it as a reference to Episode Twenty Two. The library at Florida contains a book titled To Serve Man as a reference to an episode of the same name. All the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attractions except the Tower of Terror in Tokyo feature a little girl holding a Mickey Mouse doll.
Tower of Terror Movie
After the success of the Tower of Terror, Disney made a movie based on the ride in 1997. Directed by D.J. MacHale, the story revolves around five people who are to attend a Halloween party which is to be held at the Hollywood Tower Hotel in 1939. When a bolt of lightning hits the elevator, they are killed instantly. Thereafter, the hotel is rumoured to be haunted and the solving of the mystery forms the rest of the plot. Some parts of the movie were shot at the Orlando theme park but most of the movie was shot at off-site movie sets.
Article written by Janice D. McDonald