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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Tower of Terror — The Movie

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

While it has been cited that the design of the architecture of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Florida was inspired by the Biltmore Hotel, Mission Inn and even elements from the Chateau Marmont in old Hollywood, there is another inspiration that is often missed.

The Hollywood Tower is a large apartment building on 6200 Franklin Avenue in Los Angeles that was built in 1929. It became “sophisticated living for film luminaries” during the Golden Age of Hollywood and was placed on the Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior in 1988.


Its large neon “Hollywood Tower” sign from the side of the building can be seen clearly from the northbound lane of the Hollywood 101 Freeway. It has been cited with its sign and the ascending design of the central building (only seven stories high) as one of the inspirations for the exterior of Florida’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction. The building gets ample screen time in the Disney comedy Midnight Madness (1980) and was a well known Hollywood landmark.

Speaking of screen time, Tower of Terror shown on October 26, 1997 on ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney weekly television program was the first film based on a Disney theme park attraction. While it was primarily filmed in Hollywood, some of it was filmed at the attraction in Orlando, Florida.

The roughly ninety-minute movie was written and directed by D.J. McHale who had previously worked as a writer for the Encyclopedia Brown television series as well as several After School Specials and was the co-creator (with Ned Kandel), writer and director on the Nickelodeon tv series Are You Afraid of the Dark?

“I was never a horror fan but I loved scary stories like the compilations of short stories supposedly written by Alfred Hitchcock,” said McHale. “I felt Tower of Terror was really normal people you might know and that you feel like you could relate to, who are caught up in a bigger-than-life adventure. That’s what comes out of my head, I don’t know why, but that’s what comes out.”

The story has only the slightest connection to the storyline of the actual attraction and no reference to the Twilight Zone.

Disgraced reporter Buzzy Crocker (Steve Guttenberg) was fired from the Los Angeles Banner newspaper for submitting a story that turned out to be false. He now works for a sleazy supermarket tabloid called The National Inquisitor assisted by his young niece Anna (a very young Kirsten Dunst).

An elderly woman named Abigail Gregory comes to Buzzy with a story about an incident she witnessed at a now abandoned luxury hotel back in 1939 where five hotel guests mysteriously disappeared. Gregory claims that the nanny of child film star Sally Shine was a witch who cast a curse that backfired. Buzzy feels that if the story is true he might be able to get a job on a legitimate newspaper.

The elevator has been repaired, and using items from the people who had disappeared, an attempt is made to free the ghosts from their curse. However, it turns out that Abigail is actually the jealous sister of Sally and is the one who cast the original curse. Fortunately the two reconcile before everyone is doomed for all eternity.

The other ghosts ascend to the Tip Top Club in all its former glory and then go on to Heaven along with the other party attendees who had also been trapped. With the curse broken, the Hollywood Tower Hotel is restored and re-opened.

It is not surprising that this made-for-television movie is little remembered but it is also another entry on the list of Walt Disney World appearances on film.

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Thanks, Jim!  And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his soon-to-be released Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition, and Hidden Treasures of the Disney Cruise Line.


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