13 ~Terrifying~ Talking Points About The Twilight Zone: Tower Of Terror [Dissecting Disney]
Towering ominously over the Sunset Strip Boulevard area within Disney’s Hollywood Studios is The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Apart from EPCOT’s Mission Space, it’s probably the most white-knuckle inducing ride that Walt Disney World has to offer, and it’s my favorite attraction. It’s also one of the most complicated attractions, in terms of scope, detail and development, in all of Walt Disney World as well. It didn’t take me long to dig up some pretty interesting talking points about the evil tower. (U R DOOMED!) :
Before we get to the facts, I’d like to dedicate this post to my good friends Dee and Paul. I dedicate this with the hopes that someday, someway, they might actually agree to go on this ride with me.
1. Tower Of Terror Origins
The original concept for the Tower of Terror had the attraction staged as a walk-through murder mystery where guest would be awarded a certificate if they were able to “solve” the mystery. When the idea of a walk-through anything fell through, the murder mystery idea was modified. The the attraction would tell the story of a hotel manager who went insane and murdered all the guests at his hotel during an elite Hollywood 1930′s party to to somehow end up on the elevator of the Hotel and never be heard from again. In keeping with the family friendly theme of Disney stories, to his credit, Micheal Eisner “killed” the murder theming idea before it ever went to the story board process.
2. The Hotel… Mel?
Very early on in the development life cycle of the Tower of Terror, Michael Eisner wanted to theme the ride after the Mel Brooks movie “Young Frankenstein.” At the time this was seen as an obvious attempt by Eisner to involve Brooks with Disney in some way. Eisner, knowing Brooks was a huge fan of Disneyland saw this as an opportunity for collaboration. This would give Disney a foot in the door with Brooks, with the hopes that Disney could end up producing his future movies.
Initially Brooks had to be sold on the idea, but once he was he became very involved in the creative process. The Tower of Terror would be “Castle Young Frankenstein”, complete with Bavarian village streets leading up to the castle drawbridge. When the theming of the ride didn’t pan out (Honestly, would you really want to see a medieval village and castle admits the other movie and television themed attractions in Disney Studios?) Castle Young Frankenstein was scrapped and the concept became “Mel Brooks’ Hollywood Horror Hotel”. The Imagineers nicknamed the project “Hotel Mel”.
Mel would eventually drop out of the project, stating that he lost interest and he was too involved with filming the movie “Life Stinks“, but the Hollywood Horror Hotel theming stuck.
3. Reality Imitating Fiction
The Tower of Terror was struck by lightning during it’s construction. This is ironic as because in the introduction movie to the ride, it shows the tower being stuck by lightning. I’m sure this was somehow arranged by Disney to keep up the overwhelming attention to detail that they’ve become famous for. However, unlike the movie, nobody disappeared to haunt the ride after the event.
The lobby section of Tower of Terror Queue feels like it was taken out of a Twilight Zone episode and contains a few points of interest.
The luggage found in the lobby is a genuine set manufactured from alligator skin. Many of the items of the Lobby queue area were purchased, not created, for realistic theming and are quite valuable.
Trying to find inspiration of a 1930′s furniture catalog, Imagineers ended up contact the company (first checking to see they were still in business) and hired them to reproduce entire furniture sets in the catalog.
A set of leather chairs found in the corner of the lobby is an authentic Renaissance antique.
Imagineers hire mahjongg players to sit in the lobby and play half a game. This was done to give an authentic impression that people “dropped everything” to leave the hotel immediately after lightning struck the building.
5.Dry Clean Only!
The cast members assigned to work at the Tower of Terror are required to wear authentic looking 1930′s-esque bellhop uniforms. Costing over $1,000 per uniform they are the most expensive costume in all of Disney World. Looking at the bellhop’s jackets, it would also be safe to assume that these are some of the hottest costumes in all of Walt Disney World.
The Tower of Terror dwarfs all but one attraction in all of Walt Disney World. With the top of the tower reaching 199 feet, only Expedition Everest stands taller with it’s peak at 199.5 feet.
A fun side note: Walt Disney didn’t want any of his attractions to cross the 200 feet height threshold. Florida building code mandates that any building 200 feet or taller must have a flashing beacon placed on top of it. Walt felt that this would spoil the stories he was trying to tell with his parks and encouraged his Imagineers to use other architectural tricks, such as forced perspective, to make the attractions appear taller.
7.True To The Original
Once it was decided that the theming for the attraction would be based off of the Twilight Zone, Imagineers spent days watching every Twilight Zone episode in the series. Some were watched back to back more than once.
Mark Silverman, the voice actor who supplemented the voice of Rod Sterling in the introduction video, had to be personally approved by Sterling’s widow before he was given the part.
The video clips of Rod Sterling used in the creation of the introduction movies was taken from the episode “It’s a Good Life” which is about a boy who has the power to change people into inanimate objects, or send them away to a corn field, with his mind. The original opening to the episode is:
“Tonight’s story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States, and there’s a little town there called Peaksville. On a given morning not too long ago, the rest of the world disappeared and Peaksville was left all alone. Its inhabitants were never sure whether the world was destroyed and only peaksville left untouched or whether the village had somehow been taken away. They were, on the other hand, sure of one thing: the cause. A monster had arrived in the village. Just by using his mind, he took away the automobiles, the electricity, the machines, because they displeased him, and he moved the entire community back into the dark ages. Just by using his mind.”
Now I’d like to introduce you to some of the people of Peaksville, Ohio. This is Mr. Fremont. It’s in his farmhouse that the monster resides. This is Mrs. Fremont. And this is Aunt Amy, who probably had more control over the monster in the beginning than almost anyone. But one day she forgot. She began to sing aloud. Now, the monster doesn’t like singing, so his mind snapped at her, and turned her into the smiling, vacant thing you’re looking at now. She sings no more. And you’ll note that the people in Peaksville, Ohio, have to smile.They have to thin happy thoughts and say happy things because, once displeased, the monster can wish them into a cornfield or change them into a grotesque walking horror. This particular monster can read minds you see. He knows every thought, he can feel every emotion. Oh yes, I did forget something didn’t I.
This is the monster. His name is Anthony Fremont. He’s six years old, with a cute little-boy face and blue, guiles eyes. But when those eyes look at you, you’d better start thinking happy thoughts, because the mind behind them is absolutely in charge. This, is the Twilight Zone.”
The little girl in the introduction video is holding an original 1935 Mickey Mouse doll while she is riding in the elevator. The decision to include this doll in the video is the perfect blend of marketing, authenticity and creative thinking that Imagineers are known for.
9. Getting Technical
The ride takes place in an AGV (Autonomous Guided Vehicle). An AGV is a self contained and controlling ride vehicle that can movie without the aid of a track. With on-board power and computer systems the AGV follows a developed path and keeps in constant communication with the RCS (Ride Control System), so the attraction can track where each car is at any given time. A similar system is used in the Ellen’s Universe of Energy.
The attraction’s drop is not actually a drop. There are two sophisticated pulley systems that are attached to the top and bottom of the elevator’s cage or VVC (Vertical Vehicle Conveyance). When the drop sequence takes place, the lower pulley system literally pulls the VVC downward allowing it to “drop” faster than the speed of gravity.
A sole computer algorithm determines the drop sequence the attraction is going to take once the ride begins. The advertisements state “The ride is in control” and they are right. Nobody can predict what the next drop sequence will be.
The maximum speed of the ride is 28.4 mph, and guests experience 1.3 G’s while inside the ride.
10. Location, Location, Location
You may know that the whole of Disney Studio’s Sunset Boulevard was designed to incorporate well with the design of the Terror of Terror. The attraction was meant to bring foot traffic through a, at the time, unpopular Disney-MGM Studios theme park. The idea was to create a 1930′s style high-rise hotel that towers over the tinsel town street. But what you might not know is that the over all color scheme of the Tower of Terror, and subsequently Sunset Boulevard, was influenced by EPCOT’s Morocco Pavilion. While standing across from Morocco, within the World Showcase, you can clearly make out the backside of The Tower of Terror. Because of this, the tower was themed so that it would appear to be part of the Pavilion and not break the continuity of World Showcase.
11. A Rose By Any Other Name
Being one of Disney’s more popular transactions, there is a version of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in every Disney theme park but one. Tokyo Disney has “The Tower of Terror” but The Twilight Zone branding has been dropped completely. This has to do with the Hollywood glitz being lost on a Japanese audience and The Twilight Zone series being relatively unheard of in Japan.
Instead the attraction is themed as The Hotel Hightower; a 1890′s New York City hotel owned and operated by the eccentric billionaire Harrison Hightower. This tower’s story is a bit more involved than it’s Hollywood counter parts:
The story follows the adventures of the hotel’s famous builder, Harrison Hightower. Having completed many expeditions around the world and collecting thousands of countless artifacts, all of which he stored in his hotel. As it would turn out, he actually stole these many items for his own personal gain. After one such expedition to Africa, he brings home an idol by the name of Shiriki Utundu. He claims that the natives were very unhappy to part with their beloved god and threatened him that it would curse him. On December 31, 1899, Hightower held a huge party, attended by many members of the press. There he boasted about how great he was for taking the idol and denied any claims to it being cursed and even went so far as to insult it. He even used the idols head to put out his cigarette. (dum dum dum)
Around midnight, he entered the elevator to retire to his quarters at the top of the hotel. As the elevator neared the top, Shiriki Utundu came to life. The idol zapped him and the elevator, causing it to drop and crash at the bottom. When the elevator was finally pried open, only Hightower’s hat and the idol were found. The hotel was then abandoned and left for many years, claimed by the locals to be haunted. After several years, in 1912, a woman from a New York restoration company reopened the hotel with paid tours available. It is on these “tours” that guests embark on when they enter the hotel.
12. Just How Safe Is This Ride?
In the loading area before you board the elevator there is an safety inspection certificate handing on the wall. The certificate has two Twilight Zone references. First, it’s signed by “Cadwallader”. Cadwallader is a character from the Twilight Zone episode “The Escape Clause” who turns out to be the devil. Secondly, the certificate number is listed as 10259, which read as a date is 10/2/1959… the date the first episode of The Twilight Zone premiered.
13 “The Tower… It’s Trying To Warn Us”
An interesting omen within the Terror of Terror’s lobby exists as a cryptic message spelt out from fallen letters off of the hotel’s directory. Though you can’t see it anymore, the letters that supposedly fell on the floor used to spell out “evil Tower U R doomed”.
The reason you can’t see it anymore is debatable. One rumor is that the letters where never put there by Disney Imagineering in the first place, but rather by over zealous cast members looking to add an extra effect to the atmosphere of the tower. Another rumor is that the Imagineers did put the letters there, but removed them because people could somehow move the letters around to spell out new words, taking away some of the effect of the foreboding tower.
Though I can’t find a concrete answer, I’m leaning toward the first rumor. I would like to think that Walt Disney World Imagineers have more than the ability to glue a few letters on the floor to keep unwanted hands from re-arranging them. It just doesn’t make sense that they were “placed” there.
Preview: “A warm welcome back to those of you who made it…”
From the first time I experienced The Tower of Terror, I could tell there were Twilight Zone artifacts placed everywhere, but not until I starting digging around for information to use in this post did I realize just how much. Rather than trying to list a few of them here, which was my original intent, I’m going to keep digging to try and track them all down and give them a separate post of their own.
So you could say this post is to be continued…