The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror opened on June 22, 1994 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (called Disney-MGM Studios at the time.) More than just your average amusement park drop-ride, this immersive experience takes you deep into another dimension where a computer controls your fate, deciding how many times you will fall 13 stories straight down.
At 199 feet it is the second tallest attraction at Walt Disney World, (Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom beats it by half a foot). Disney doesn’t build anything taller in Florida because regulations require a flashing red light on the top of any structure 200 feet or taller. See our list below of the most interesting facts about this unique attraction including how at one point it was almost a real hotel in the park!
1. It’s Pronounced FronkensteenOne of the first ideas for this attraction was called “Castle Young Frankenstein,” a ride based on the films of filmmaker Mel Brooks. It would be a scary and funny ride set in the back of a new land themed like a Bavarian village with winding streets to the castle’s drawbridge. Later the idea was changed to “Mel Brooks’ Hollywood Horror Hotel” focusing on more films from the director. A decision was made to make the ride vehicle an elevator car that travels off its hinges, but eventually Mel Brooks left the project. For a brief moment Disney Imagineers even considered having real hotel rooms set inside the attraction where guests could stay the night.
2. Enter The Twilight Zone
Imagineers actually considered including The Twilight Zone in an attraction for the park’s opening in 1989, either in a sequence within The Great Movie Ride or SuperStar Television. When it came time to pick a new property to base their drop tower attraction on, this seemed like a perfect fit. Imagineers viewed all 156 episodes of original Twilight Zone show for inspiration. Although there was no episode about a Hollywood Tower Hotel, many aspects of the attraction were directly inspired by the show. The library and ride exit are littered with allusions to episode of the show including the ventriloquist’s dummy from the episode “Caesar and Me.”
3. A View of MoroccoThe architecture of the tower was inspired by multiple Southern California landmarks, such as the Biltmore Hotel and the Mission Inn. This was to fit in with the eclectic style of Sunset Boulevard leading up to the attraction. The back of the building was specifically designed to blend into the skyline as seen from Epcot. The color and roof line was chosen to match the architecture of the Morocco Pavilion as viewed from within that park.
4. Setting a Creepy Tone
As you enter the exterior queue you’ll pass through the hotel’s gate with a sign that shows the building was condemned on October 31, 1939. This is when the lightning hit the building in the backstory, right on Halloween night. The outdoor queue area features the songs “Inside” by Fats Waller and “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington. The landscaping for the hotel’s grounds were inspired by the look of California’s Griffith Park and Elysian Park.
5. A Lobby So Spooky
After reaching the entrance guests enter a decaying lobby, locked in time.You can see a table setting with rotting food, a copy of the Los Angeles Examiner dated October 31, 1939, abandoned suitcases near the front desk, and an unfinished game of mahjong. Some of the sculptures featured in the lobby are the work of 19th century sculptor Auguste Moreau, including the centerpiece Owl. By the concierge desk, there is a 13 diamond award from AAA. (The highest AAA rating a hotel can receive is 5 diamonds.)
6. Library Filled With Trinkets
Guests enter the library to see the ride’s preshow. Among the various props in the room you can find a hidden nod to Mickey Mouse in a piece of sheet music for the song “What! No Mickey Mouse?” There’s a book on the shelves titled “To Serve Man,” taken from the Twilight Zone episode of the same name. And the fortune telling machine that tormented William Shatner in the episode “Nick of Time” can be seen on the top shelf in the room. The preshow video was directed by “Gremlins” filmmaker Joe Dante. It incorporates footage from the old show with new footage shot specifically for the attraction.
7. Bringing Rod Serling Back (from the Dead)Since Rod Serling passed away in 1975 footage of him was utilized from the episode titled “It’s a Good Life” for his appearance in the preshow. Voice actor Mark Silverman did an impersonation of him for the preshow and ride’s narration. Since Serling’s likeness was used there is a paycheck waiting for him, mixed in with the various nick knacks along the wall of the library, just in case he manages to come back one day. Stranger things have happened in The Twilight Zone.
8. Little Girl Lost
The idea for the five unfortunate souls being lost in another dimension after lightning hit their elevator was inspired by the Twilight Zone episode titled “Little Girl Lost.” In the episode a little girl falls through the wall behind her bed into another dimension. Her family can hear her voice but are unable to see her. If you look closely, the little girl in the preshow video and hallway scene is holding a Mickey Mouse doll.
9. It’s Raining, It’s Pouring
The little girl can be heard singing the nursery rhyme “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring” during the preshow and when the family is struck by lightning. This would have been a new song to them at the time, with its first recording having come out in 1939. The first two lines had appeared in a Mother Goose book in 1912, but they weren’t put to music until the year that the backstory takes place.
10. A Ghostly HallwayThe corridor scene where the lost souls beckon you to join them uses the same type of technology used to make the ghosts appear semi-transparent in the ballroom scene of The Haunted Mansion. This method is often called “Pepper’s Ghost” and is accomplished by reflecting an image onto an angled piece of plexiglass. Also, this hallway uses forced perspective to appear larger, but is really only 6-feet deep and the wall at the back of the hall is only 4-feet tall.
11. Entering the 5th DimensionThe elevator car guests sit in is actually an Autonomous Guided Vehicle. For the part where the car moves forward into the 5th Dimension it separates from the elevator shaft and moves on its own using wheels below the car. It does not ride on a track, instead it follows a predetermined path using antennas to sense a hidden wire embedded in the floor. When moving into the drop tower our car actually parks itself within another elevator car that takes it up and down.
12. Faster Than a Freefall
In order to achieve the weightless effect Disney Imagineers wanted, cables attached to the bottom of the elevator car pull it down at a speed slightly faster than what a free fall would provide. Two enormous motors are located at the top of the tower, measuring 12 feet tall, 35 feet long, and weighing 132,000 pounds. They are able to accelerate at 15 times the speed of normal elevators. And the design for this faster-than-freefall elevator was created, in part, by Otis Elevator Company, the world’s oldest manufacturer of real elevators. They normally focus on downplaying the falling sensation, but were asked to play it up in this case.
13. The Tower is in Control
The current incarnation of the ride utilizes computers to select random drop sequences meaning that no two rides are ever the same, but it wasn’t always this way. The attraction opened in 1994 featuring only a single drop. In May of 1996, a second drop was added. A third drop was added in 1999, along with new music and lighting effects. Advertisements referred to it as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: Fear Every Drop! The version we have now opened in 2002, introducing computer controlled drops to the ride, so no two experiences are the same.
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