Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the Tower of Terror attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios and it inspired me to write about why the Tower of Terror is there for this week's column. The story of how the Tower of Terror came to be as it is, is a pretty interesting story. Like many attractions at Walt Disney World, the idea for the ride as it exists today wasn't just thought up one day by an Imagineer somewhere and it went straight into development. The reality is that the Tower of Terror we see today is the evolution of a few different ideas from differerent projects that eventually became the Tower of Terror we know today.
So let's turn back to the clock to the late 1980's/early 1990's and take a trip 3000 miles east as the story of the Tower of Terror begins when Disney was developing Eurodisney in France. You see, when Imagineers were developing the Disneyland component of this park, they had an idea for Frontierland named "Geyser Mountain", where guests would board a mine car, ride through a mountain until a geyser would catch the mine car and push the car up a chasm out of the mountain and then back onto the tracks. Well, that was an interesting idea but that attraction never got built, however, the seed for a free fall attraction was set with that project. Imagineers didn't give up yet as once Disneyland Paris opened in 1992, Imagineers had another idea for an attraction based on the Jules Verne book "Journey to the center of the earth" that had a freefall component to it. Once again, budget cuts took this project off the boards and the idea went back to the drawing board.
About this time, Imagineers had another problem. The newly opened Disney-MGM Studios had become super popular and needed more attractions. Quickly Imagineers came up with the Sunset Boulevard expansion and they started planning what would make up this street and once again, the idea for a free fall attraction that had been developed years earlier in Paris, was brought to the table. As it turns out, Disney was in talks with movie director Mel Brooks to develop an attraction based on his films. Brooks had always been a big fan of Disney and like George Lucas, he felt that Disney was one of the few companies he could trust his brands to and know the attractions built from them would be up to expections. The first idea developed between Imagineers and Mel Brooks was an attraction dubbed "Castle Young Frankenstein", which would have a medival feel to it in a Bavarian village setting. Quickly, this idea changed to something a bit more modern to fit the overal theme of the Studios and the project became "Mel Brooks' Hollywood Horror Hotel".
Development among Imagineers continued with Mel Brooks providing input as well to tie things in. As the Imagineers discussed this and other ideas, such as an attraction that was centered around a murder mystery, to put on Sunset Boulevard. One concept was for a "comedy Haunted Mansion" that would feature Castle Young Frankenstein. The more Imagineers discussed the concepts, the more they strayed from the original concept that had brought Mel Brooks and Brooks lost interest in the project as well as being distracted by his newest project, a new film called "Life Stinks".
Once Brooks formally left, Imagineers started changing the project to have a Spanish-Renaissance "look" because of the great architecture and because it would fit in with the eclectic store fronts on Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards. And with Brooks out, Disney now needed another film tie-in for the attraction and after some consideration, looked at the Twilight Zone and it seemed very quickly to be a good fit as the budget would allow for Disney to acquire the rights and to add a Twilight Zone theme wouldn't be terribly difficult. Imagineers poured over the source material of the Twilight Zone and quickly committed to a free fall attraction centered around a Twilight Zone theme.
Further development continued and some more ideas were added and subtracted, but overall the Tower of Terror of we know today was born and on July 22, 1994, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction at the Disney-MGM Studios opened and changed the landscape of the Studios forever. Today, it continues to be one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World and a headline attraction at the Studios. As you can see, the origins of the Tower of Terror stretch back to many other projects that never got beyond the drawing board and yet they all contributed to the attraction we know and love today. If you want to read a much more detailed history of the Tower of Terror, check out the full history of the Tower of Terror at our TowerofTerror.org sister site.