Disneyland Ride Movies (Part 2)


Our marathon of movies based on Disneyland rides got off to a rough start with the abysmal The Haunted Mansion. I’m sure there’s no way a TV movie starring Steve Guttenberg could be as bad!

Movie: Tower of Terror

Director: D.J. McHale

Released: 1997

Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Kirsten Dunst, Nia Peeples, Michael McShane, Amzie Strickland, Alastair Duncan

Plot: A disgraced reporter now makes his living writing tabloid headlines. When he’s given a tip about the famed Hollywood Hotel mystery, he thinks he’s got a chance at redemption only to find there’s real truth to the supernatural events.

The Ride: Initially opening in Disney-MGM Studio Park (now Disney Hollywood Studios) in 1994, ‘The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’ is an elaborate drop ride that puts guests in the middle of an episode of The Twilight Zone. Initially an ambitious idea that would incorporate an actual hotel, and going through several themes including a Stephen King inspired attraction and a Vincent Price ghost tour, it became a living The Twilight Zone experience with a recreated Rod Sterling taking you to the 5th dimension.

Whilst waiting in line for the ride, guests will learn about a lightning strike that caused a group of people in the elevator to vanish into thin air. Boarding the elevator, guests are carried up and through the hotel and imagery from The Twilight Zone where they meet the ghosts of the missing people before being dropped at high speed.

The ride was recreated in Disney California Adventure, Tokyo DisneySea and Disneyland Paris, and each version has undergone alterations and updates. In 2017 the California Adventure ‘Tower of Terror’ was closed and rethemed as ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout’, becoming the first Marvel themed ride in a Disney park.

Movie Review: Maybe this is because we had just watched the complete disaster of The Haunted Mansion, but this wasn’t all that bad. Even though this is a lower budget made-for-TV adventure, it is the superior take on the haunted house sub-genre made for family audiences. It has an ensemble of characters with straight-forward motivations, an interesting mystery with a couple of twists and a really fun setting. The opening scene is a high energy, swinging party taking place during the Golden Age of Hollywood presented in sweeping, twisting camera angles. It comes in hot and it’s genuinely engaging.

After that the movie slows right down and we get following the ridiculously named Buzzy Crocker (Guttenberg), who makes his money writing trashy tabloid articles that creepily involves dressing up his young teen niece (Dunst, surprisingly) and photographing her. He gets approached by the elderly Abigail Gregory (Stickland) who has a fresh perspective on a classic mystery. The classic Hollywood Hotel is the centre of a mystery in which a child actor, her guardian, a bellhop and a celebrity couple vanished from the elevator during a lightning strike. Abigail reveals that she was there on the night, and saw the guardian using black magic to get rid of child star Sally Shine.

Whilst Buzzy (urgh) is taking photos of his niece dressed up as the child star (URGH) at the location, they experience supernatural events. This is where the TV budget really shows, as the effects are pretty rough. It’s also clear that whilst they used the exterior of the attraction is used for filming, the interior is build on a set, so it feels disjointed. The story is also a bit padded while they go back and forth trying to convince people of the legitimacy of the story.

Unlike The Haunted Mansion, this movie manages to incorporate much of the attractions lore and characters into the film. The most noticeable missing component is The Twilight Zone theming. We have no idea how they would have managed to get the rights to use this IP in a television movie, but there’s no way that the classic Twilight Zone tropes wouldn’t have improved this. Just the music and opening monologue would’ve been a treat.

There’s not much draw for modern audiences, with the aged effects, low production values and fading star of the lead character, but they do decent work within the limitations. It’s also free to watch on YouTube, so if you’re a fan of the ride it might be worth the short running time.

Rating: SIX out of TEN

DISNEYLAND RIDE MOVIE RANKINGS

With only two entries on the list so far, this decision is easy.

  1. Tower of Terror
  2. The Haunted Mansion