Disney: ‘Tower of Terror’ Movie Review

Screenshot of Lindsay Ridgeway, Melora Hardin, Alastair Duncan, Wendy Worthington, and John Franklin from 1997’s ‘Tower of Terror’. Copyright goes to Zaloom/Mayfield Productions and Walt Disney Television.

Hey! Hallie here!

I’ve talked about both Haunted Mansion and Phantom Manor during this month, but I’ve neglected to talk about Disney’s other famously spooky ride, Tower of Terror. Tower of Terror has a basic story, which we’ll get to in a bit, but it’s story isn’t very detailed. So it made sense that in 1997, Disney decided to flesh out the story a bit more with a made-for-television film. Ok, so made-for-television movies don’t exactly have the best track record of being, well, good. Still, even with low expectations, I was interested to see what this movie would do with the Tower of Terror lore I already knew. So did this movie give me the interesting story additions I was hoping for? Yes and no. Let’s look into what it did right and what it did very, very, wrong. SPOILERS ahead!

The Good:

  • The way the original characters were used. The strongest part of the original Tower of Terror’s storyline are the characters we see as ghosts during the beginning of the ride. The only things we’re given about the characters come from one black and white video we’re shown during the introductory segment of the line. We know that only Hollywood’s elite stayed at the Hollywood Tower Hotel, further proven by the paparazzi taking pictures of each character as they enter the elevator. We know what the characters appear to be: A couple, a little girl, a strict woman, and a bellhop. That’s about it. This movie does much more for the characters. It focuses on the little girl, Sally Shine, who is revealed to be the reason why all of the characters were at the hotel in the first place. She was a child star, and because of her popularity, her birthday party was being held in the hotel for Hollywood’s elite to attend. The strict woman is Emeline Partridge, Sally’s nanny. For much of the movie it’s believed that she was the reason Sally died, but she was in fact not as strict as many believed. Carolyn Crosson and Gilbert London, the celebrity couple, weren’t quite together. They were obviously interested in each other, but Gilbert feared Carolyn didn’t care for him because he had seen her flirt with other men. Even the bellhop, Dewey Todd, was given a backstory. He wasn’t very good at his job, but he was desperately attempting to impress his father who worked in a high position within the hotel. Every character is given a deeper story and is properly explored in the movie.
  • Shooting on location. The sections of this movie that take place on the grounds of the Hollywood Tower Hotel were shot at Walt Disney World. The movie uses the actual ride, as well as the first room in the line, to further immerse the audience in the story. Even when the characters enter parts of the hotel that are obviously sets, rather than locations from the ride, it feels like it could be a room in the hotel because we had seen the characters walking through the actual hotel façade a second earlier. I enjoyed seeing the little details put into the line for the ride being used for the immersion of the movie.

The Bad:

  • The other story. This movie doesn’t focus on the characters or the lore we know from Tower of Terror. Instead it chooses to focus on a father-daughter duo and their familial issues. While the daughter is a bearable character who seems genuinely interested in the ghosts inside the hotel, the father is established as being selfish and overbearing early on in the movie. He attempts to hire an actress to play a ghost for pictures of the hotel so that he may make a tabloid story out of it. His story arc in the movie revolves around the fact that he’s lost relationships in order to write interesting news stories to relive his glory days. The movie focuses on these bad traits so that this character may learn from his mistakes by the end of the movie, but not only is his character unbearable for most of it, his story is the least interesting part of the movie. The ghosts provide some intrigue while his storyline only consists of him arguing with his daughter and his ex-girlfriend, and saying something vaguely offensive to anyone who isn’t those two. I was left wondering when the movie would return to the ghost characters whenever he was onscreen. The movie had an entire world to explore with what the Tower of Terror ride provided, but instead it decided to focus on a largely dislikable character with a boring story.
  • The drop. What’s the most prominent part of the Tower of Terror ride? Obviously, it’s the drop. Park guests see the lightning hit the elevator with the tower’s residents inside during the introductory video in the line. It foreshadows what’s about to happen to the guests once they get on the ride. The narrator directly states that what happened to those residents is about to happen to you. The destroyed elevator can be seen in the line as well. So I was very confused when the movie took out the falling elevator during the initial lightning strike. The characters simply disappeared and then became ghosts. In fact, part of the main plot is that the elevator stopped right before the level where the birthday party was being held. The entire reason why the ghosts can’t move on is because the elevator is still stuck there when the other characters enter the hotel decades later. The fact that this initial drop, which is a major part of the Tower of Terror, isn’t included in the movie is bewildering to me. There is an elevator drop that occurs during the climax of the movie, but it doesn’t fix the fact that the movie just decided to take out a major part of the Tower of Terror’s lore for no apparent reason.

So what’s my overall verdict? This movie was ok. It was kind of cute. It had some good ideas, but it stumbles quite a bit by deciding to insert and focus on characters that take away from the interesting parts of the movie. Everyone who wanted a Tower of Terror movie wanted a story to explain the characters and lore we were given. Preferably in the style of the original Twilight Zone. This movie does explain some things about the ghost characters, but in the end, they’re side characters. There isn’t enough of a focus on them and some of the initial lore is even taken away to better suit the movie. And if you’re looking for a Twilight Zone feel, you won’t find it here. This movie is very family friendly. There’s nothing particularly scary about it. Regardless, it has a satisfyingly creepy aesthetic and is a fun enough exploration of the ride. At the very least, if you’re interested in Tower of Terror, it’s a fun watch for Halloween!

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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