"You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension...beyond the deepest, darkest corner of the imagination...in the Tower of Terror."
Walt Disney World isn’t about thrills. It’s about story. Sometimes, however, thrills can help tell the story. A perfect example of this is The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
Back in the early 1990’s, Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) was considered a half-day park. The first major expansion was Sunset Boulevard, with the purpose of adding some much-needed high profile rides to the park, and even out traffic flow away from The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Star Tours, and Muppetvision 3D.
Several ideas were proposed; a Mickey’s Movieland, a Roger Rabbit attraction, and a Dick Tracy themed ride were all scrapped for various reasons. Disney then teamed up with Mel Brooks with the thought of creating an attraction based on Young Frankenstein. This "Castle Young Frankenstein" would have featured a Bavarian village with winding streets to the castle with a drawbridge. The idea later changed to "Mel Brooks' Hollywood Horror Hotel".
As time went on, Brooks lost interest in the project; partially because Disney wasn't building on Mel's original idea anymore, and also because he started work on the movie "Life Stinks". Once he had left, Imagineers started to re-imagine what direction the attraction would take. A haunted house collaboration with Vincent Price was considered, but eventually scrapped, as well. They then started leaning toward a Spanish Mission look as a better fit with the existing architecture on Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards. Disney still felt the attraction needed a movie reference however, and eventually settled on the Twilight Zone theme. In fact, the idea of a Twilight Zone attraction was tossed around for one of the opening day attractions at the Disney-MGM Studios, and was a fairly easy overlay. The one element that was lost with Mel’s departure was the comedy aspect, but with Mel gone, Imagineers focused on the eeriness and thrill of the attraction to enhance the Twilight Zone theme.
The Fifth Dimension idea played a strong part of the story from the beginning - and it became the ideal transition from ride shaft to drop shaft (early plans called for the 5th Dimension floor to be in the basement, having descended from the corridor scene, and then to rise to the top of the building and move into the drop shaft without a show scene.) To maximize capacity without duplicating everything, it was decided to have four ride shafts but only two drop shafts. This, and the 5th Dimension transition, called for a new type of ride vehicle. Imagineering had to have an elevator car, but one that could also move horizontally. It would then need to not only drop guests, but actually pull them down, so that they are in effect falling faster than gravity. With the plans finalized, construction of the Tower of Terror began promptly. On July 22, 1994, the brand new attraction opened its doors to the public.
Long before guests board the elevator however, the story unfolds. As you approach the once-beautiful hotel, signs of disuse and decay are evident. The story behind the hotel's elevators entices visitors into the elegant and intricately decorated lobby. Leather furniture, rich woods, and deeply colored tapestries give an authentic feel to the lobby, as do the Cast Members dressed in classic bell-hop attire emblazoned with the "HTH" logo of the hotel. An "Out of Order" sign stands in front of collapsed mesh lift doors, further drawing hotel guests into the secrets of the disaster that once occurred on a stormy night long ago...
Everything in the hotel remains exactly as it did when it was a thriving destination for Hollywood's beautiful and elite. Books, pipes, porcelain vases, and antique lamps adorn tables and shelves. But everything is dusty and unkempt, as though it had been suddenly abandoned and forgotten…
As you enter the library, lights flicker and an old television comes on. From there, Rod Serling fills you in on the story you have entered. You see, one stormy night long ago, an elegant honeymoon couple, a child actress, her nanny, and the bellman entered the main elevators of the Hollywood Tower Hotel during a terrible thunderstorm. As the group made the ascent toward their rooms, lightning struck the elevator shaft on the outside of the building. The lift itself plummeted to the ground floor - yet the bodies of the victims were never found, and are said to still roam the hotel, inviting unsuspecting visitors to enter the fifth dimension and learn the secret of that fateful night. The service in all the main elevators was lost that night, all apart from one service elevator that still works. In that service elevator, your destiny awaits….
Today, the Tower of Terror continues to amaze (and frighten) guests of all ages. This is deservedly one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World but remember, “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.”