Behind The Scenes in The Tower of Terror


Courtesy of All Ears

The Tower of Terror is one of the most beloved rides at Disneyland, here are some fun facts behind the scenes of the ride.

Spencer Gorka, The Scroll, Staff Writers

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into…The Twilight Zone.” 

If you are a resident of California, Florida or just a die heart Disney fan, you may be familiar with the ride Tower of Terror from the California Adventure theme park in Disneyland Resort. This ride, as fans are saddened, is no longer with us in California, but the original attraction at Hollywood Studios in Florida still stands tall. This ride, though slightly terrifying, has been a fan favorite over the years and continues to be loved in the hearts of many. Now, let’s cross over into…The Twilight Zone.

In its planning stage in Imagineering, Disney was considering many different shows and movies to fill a new ride spot in the Hollywood Studio park in Orlando, Florida. This new attraction was planned to be a drop system ride, very similar to the Superman ride at Magic Mountain, as the theme of Journey To The Center Of The Earth, or other spectacular films like that of Vincent Price, or Steven King, or even Mel Brooks. However, they ended up settling on Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone for the theme of the ride. Ground broke and construction began.

Hollywood, 1939. Amid the glitz and the glitter of a bustling, young movie town at the height of its golden age, The Hollywood Tower Hotel was a star in its own right; a beacon for the show business elite. Now, something is about to happen that will change all that. The time is now on an evening very much like the one we have just witnessed.

The building and basis of the whole attraction was to be themed as a 1930s hotel in Hollywood. The whole design of the exterior and interior of the hotel in the Florida tower was inspired by existing Southern California landmarks, such as the Biltmore Hotel and the Mission Inn. The Spanish colonial architecture for the exterior of the tower facade was purposefully designed, not just for the ride, but also to blend in with the skyline of other attractions like the Morocco Pavilion in EPCOT. The exterior, the facade, is more prevalent to the Mission Inn design with its spires and brick accent walls. In the interior, the lobby, the ceilings and design of the room is to resemble a hall from the Biltmore Hotel in LA. These landmarks that were used into the design and architecture of the tower really brings out the character of the ride itself.

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 maintenance service elevator still in operation, waiting for you. We invite you, if you dare, to step aboard because in tonight’s episode, you are the star. And this elevator travels directly to…The Twilight Zone.

With the inspiration and start of the drop system that Six Flags had introduced, Disney created their own system using elevators and a vertical drop system. They asked the Otis Elevator Company to plan an elevator system that would purposely drop and rise at faster than free fall speeds. They also added the ride vehicle with a greater capacity, as much as 22 passengers. In the Florida version, Imagineers and engineers were able to create a cable system through the ride so that the ride could go from shaft to shaft, vertical to horizontal to vertical, creating the 5th Dimension scene.

You are the passengers on a most uncommon elevator about to take the strangest journey of your lives. Your destination, unknown, but this much is clear; a reservation has been made in your name for an extended stay. Wave goodbye to the real world, for you have just entered… The Twilight Zone. What happened here to dim the lights of Hollywood’s brightest showplace is about to unfold once again.

The free fall experience was produced by a cable at the bottom of the shaft that slightly pulls the ride vehicle so that the speed is a bit faster than normal free fall speed. Motors at the top of the shaft make the elevator travel 15 times faster than a normal elevator, traveling at a top speed of 39 miles per hour. This whole system was new and unique to only Tower of Terror, making the ride very special by itself.

The pre show that takes place in the hotel’s library as it plays on the old TV screen was directed by Joe Dante, as he is known for the movie Gremlins. The archival footage of Rod Serling, who passed away in 1975, was originally from the Twilight Zone episode “It’s A Good Life.” Mark Silverman was casted as Rod Serling’s narrative voice as the sequence continues and was casted by Serling’s wife, Carol. The whole small production came together to create the black and white short to introduce the story of the Tower of Terror and how it got to the way it is.

Overall, the attraction cost $140 million and opened July 22, 1994 in Florida. Because the new Californian Adventure park at the Disneyland Resort was not a success when it opened, they decided to bring a copy of the Tower of Terror to the park since it was such a hit in Disney World. The design of the building was similar but had many differences both inside and out. This hotel was designed with Pueblo- deco styles that are found throughout Southern California, having a different shape on the facade. The interior also has a different lobby but taking the same Biltmore Hotel feel to it. As for the elevator system, they added three different shafts with different systems to be better for repairs and diversity in the ride. When the ride opened May 5th, 2004, it became an instant hit for California Adventure, creating a huge revival for it.

You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension, beyond the deepest, darkest corner of the imagination… in the Tower of Terror.

Guests, when entering the gates of the famed Hollywood Tower Hotel, weave through the gardens and lobby as distant, echoing 1930’s jazz music plays. The whole design is meant for the hotel to look old and eroding since it’s abandonment in 1939 after the incident that occurred. When traveling through the lobby, there will be the main elevator labeled as “out of order” to lead you further into the depths of the hotel’s walls. Guests enter the hotel’s library where lightning shatters the silence and only leaves the retro TV playing the pre-show film to introduce the creepy and unnerving story of the hotel. During a lightning storm, a bolt of lightning hit the hotel and sent the elevators plummeting to the ground, killing a couple, a young child actress with her nanny, and a bellhop. As the TV flicks off, doors open and the guests enter the boiler room where the service elevators are. These are the elevators that the guests will be riding, traveling into the 5th dimension.

Fun fact time! The corridor scene during the actual ride sequence is performed by a mirror illusion where projections reflect light at perfect angles to make the hall look longer than it really is. 

When the ride skyrockets to the very top, the doors open for a full few of both the California Adventure park and the Disneyland park. Those are the 13th, 11th, and 10th floors. In urban legend, those specific floors are considered the most haunted floors in any hotel. For example, the 10th and 11th floor of the Biltmore Hotel are “haunted” because of the Black Dalia murder. This was incorporated into the ride for a little scary aspect.

In the Florida version, the ride only dropped once in 1994 and then it changed to two times in 1996. Then, in 2003, they added a randomized system that allowed the ride to drop anywhere between 5-8 times. However, California didn’t have a special randomized system and was just the same sequence every time.

The Tower of Terror was changed to Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout in 2017 in order to introduce more Marvel attractions to the Californian parks. It was both cheaper and took less time than building a whole new attraction. However, many Tower of Terror fans have said that Disney should’ve kept Tower of Terror because it was so beloved by many.

The important thing that we must remember about this amazing and terrifying ride is that it is close to our hearts. The Florida attraction is still in operation to this day and you may take the trip to ride this incredible attraction if you wish. But, as always, 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.