TOWER OF TERROR
Directed & Written By: D.J MacHale
Produced By: Iain Paterson
Premiered On: October 26, 1997
Distribution By: ABC
The first Disney attraction to be put to film, though strictly for a straight-to-TV release, The Tower of Terror is a bit contrary to its real-world counterpart insomuch that any and all connections it has to the Twilight Zone are nonexistent in the film itself, which makes it kind of lacking in the overall spookiness I feel.
To be fair, I have never really sat down and watched more than the occasional episode of The Twilight Zone television series, the original that is, but what few I did see and recall have left more than a faint tingle of foreboding down my spine as a result. The ride itself is no different as Rod Serling, or at least a very good lookalike, hosts a majority of the ride as being a “lost” episode of the original series whose story is quite a tale.
It is Halloween night in 1939 and the glimmer glamour of the Hollywood Tower Hotel is in full swing as usual despite the severe thunderstorm occurring outside. That night, five people board one of the hotel’s elevators from the lobby, riding it up towards the thirteenth floor. Whilst inside the elevator, a bolt of lightning strikes the hotel causing an entire wing, and all the people inside, to vanish whilst the elevator itself comes crashing down to the lobby floor empty as a newly dug grave.
This is where the film separates itself from the ride as passengers of the maintenance elevator, the only functioning elevator in the hotel following this terrible night, are invited to try and uncover the mystery by Serling but really, there is no definitive answer given on the ride itself and the one provided in the film is extremely lackluster.
In the film, it is explained that the five passengers are as follows: Carolyn Crosson, a singer, her beau Gilbert London, rising child actress Sally “Sally Shine” Gregory, her nanny Emeline Partridge, and bellhop Dewey Todd and that a curse had been placed upon them, and the hotel, that Halloween night but the curse was not completed and can be reversed under the right circumstances.
This doesn’t really matter much to Buzzy Crocker, a former journalist turned tabloid writer when it was revealed that a news story he had written was faked. He’s initially in it for the money, going so far as to try and get fake pictures of the ghosts for the tabloid whereas his niece Anna is all for saving the ghosts.
While the blame was initially placed upon Nanny Partridge, the real culprit is revealed to be Abigail Gregory, Sally’s sister whom cast the curse because of her jealousy and the fact that it was quite apparent that her birthday, on Halloween no less, had been forgotten.
Let me be clear here, a girl who was perhaps all of thirteen years old, at best, cast a curse upon her slightly younger sister dooming her and four other innocent souls to a state of perpetual limbo for all time because of said sibling’s popularity but, most importantly, because her family forgot her birthday.
I’d make a joke about an overreaction but it gets better. The party that was occurring that night? That was Abigail’s party and no one apparently thought it worth mentioning to her ever because even all these decades later Abigail was set to try and finish the curse completely until her dearly departed sister revealed the truth.
I am all for suspending my sense of disbelief in films, particularly those that take on ghostly aspects that leave more than a few questions to run rampant in one’s head, but this? Oh man, where do I even begin? Where the heck did Abigail find a spell book that had such a curse and how in the heck was she, an untrained child, even capable of casting it? More to the point, I do not care whether or not her little sister forgave her, Abigail is not ascending to Heaven following the breaking of said curse that could have doomed five innocent souls to perpetual purgatory and outright killed an entire wing of guests and employees of the hotel.
Being a made for television film, the special effects are… decent at best especially considering this was made in a time when CGI and the like were all but nonexistent. In that fairness, I give the film three out five if only because it is one of the better Halloween themed films to come straight to television by Disney.
Surprisingly, there is a rumor circling that a possible remake is in the works for the Tower of Terror, one that will hopefully adhere more to the overall feel that comes with any story that takes residence in the Twilight Zone.