The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, or simply Tower of Terror, is a series of similar accelerated drop tower dark rides located at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Tokyo DisneySea, Walt Disney Studios Park, and formerly located at Disney California Adventure. The attraction is inspired by Rod Serling's anthology television series, The Twilight Zone, and takes place in the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel in Hollywood, California. The Tokyo version features an original storyline not related to The Twilight Zone and takes place in the fictional Hotel Hightower. All versions of the attraction place riders in a seemingly ordinary hotel elevator, and present a fictional backstory in which people have mysteriously disappeared from the elevator under the influence of a supernatural element many years previously.
The new ride was formally announced on September 30, 1991, and it was later described as a haunted attraction with a \"stomach-churning 130-foot drop\" for its finale, a contrasting experience to the friendlier Haunted Mansion attraction at Magic Kingdom. Site-clearing and preparation began in early 1992, and the original location was moved slightly after a sinkhole formed. The tower's interior and exterior design took inspiration from existing Southern California landmarks, including the Biltmore Hotel and Mission Inn. The distinctive Spanish Colonial Revival architectural features that are present on and around the attraction's roof were designed so that the rear facade would blend with the skyline of the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot, which is located less than two miles from Disney's Hollywood Studios. After construction ended, the ride was initially set to open on July 4, 1994, however, Tower of Terror opened on July 22, 1994, along with the Sunset Boulevard section of Disney's Hollywood Studios.
In order to achieve the weightless effect the Imagineers desired, 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 (3.7 m) tall, 35 feet (11 m) long, and weighing 132,000 pounds (60,000 kg). They are able to accelerate 10 short tons (9.1 t) at 15 times the speed of normal elevators. They generate 275 times the torque of a Chevrolet Corvette engine, reaching top speed in 1.5 seconds. The ride's slogan, \"Never the Same Fear Twice!\", refers to the drop pattern being randomly selected by a computer before the ride begins. The drop reaches a top speed of 39 miles per hour (63 km/h). Initially, the attraction's vehicles seated 22 guests, restrained by lap bars; in 2002, the vehicles were each removed a seat from the back row and lap bars were replaced by seatbelt restraints.
The design of the 199 ft (60.7 m) tall Tower of Terror was founded on advanced dynamic analysis to model the effects of moving parts on the structural and non-structural elements. Since the facility was intended to provide new and non-repeatable sensations to visitors, a very wide variety of elevator drops and sequences of downward and upward motions, spanning anywhere from 1 floor to 13 floors, were modeled. Each elevator drop mode was analyzed as a time history - in other words accelerations that change in time - applied to the entire structural system. The objective was to push the motion beyond a free fall and provide the thrill to riders while ensuring structural integrity and safety. In addition to the self-weight of the structure, when motors weighing 270 kilo-pounds (123 metric tons) move, the force they exert on the structure is amplified by an order of magnitude. The applied accelerations were tested in the model over a range of 1.0 g (32.2 feet/s/s or 9.81 m/s/s) to 2.5 g (80.5 feet/s/s or 24.5 m/s/s). In addition to strength requirements, the design applied very stringent deflection criteria. In the case of the tower, floors have to support cabs while in horizontal motion in and out of the elevators with minimal deflections to avoid blurry projection screens.
In February 2010, Disney announced that the Tower of Terror would receive \"new lighting effects and a new addition\" as part of a summer entertainment package called \"Summer Nightastic!\". The Fifth Dimension scene was mostly covered by black tarps with fiber-optic stars, and Serling's voice was removed from just before the drop profile. Replacing it is music played in the drop shaft, along with a projected photograph of the riders just before they enter the drop shaft. Similar to the California and Paris versions of the ride, the riders disappear, leaving an empty elevator. A new drop profile was created for \"Summer Nightastic!\", and replaced the other drop profiles on all rides. After the music played, three sudden, distorted bell rings were heard, which began the drop profile. The profile mainly consisted of utilizing the entire tower for the drop sequences, as compared to the numerous faux and shortened drops in the randomized version. The changes were implemented on June 5, 2010, but were officially introduced the day after. All changes were temporary, and lasted until August 14, 2010.
Imagineers redesigned the ride system for the attraction in California and Paris and made some changes to the show scenes. Instead of the autonomous vehicle found in the original incarnation, the new ride system limits the elevator car to a single shaft, three shafts in total in the newer versions. Each shaft was its own separate ride with its own separate operating system. This makes it easier to repair individual areas of the attraction without causing the entire attraction to go down. Each shaft has the capacity to accommodate two vehicles operating from two load levels, each vehicle loading and unloading at the same point. The ride was designed so that one vehicle can be in its ride profile while the other is at its loading level, giving each ride shaft the ability to accommodate more riders. Disney used this ride system again for Tokyo DisneySea's Hotel Hightower.
The distant guests fall, then the distant elevator, followed by the ride elevator. This version of the ride does not have a randomized drop sequence, so the ride experience is identical in every drop shaft, regardless of which floor passengers board on. Two small drops occur in pitch-black darkness, followed by a rise to the top of the tower as in-cabin lights flicker. The doors then open out to reveal the view from the top floor before the car drops briefly, pauses, and drops along the remainder of the shaft. The elevator then rises almost to the top, and immediately drops without stopping, in complete darkness. The elevator then ascends all the way to the top of the tower, shudders, and falls to the bottom of the shaft, to the area in between the two loading floors, with the elevator being finally returned to its load level and horizontally pulled back into place at the boiler room service doors. The service doors open and guests exit the hotel through the basement and the gift shop.
The attraction at Tokyo DisneySea is known simply as Tower of Terror and omits any connection or tie-in whatsoever with The Twilight Zone, as the television series is not well known in Japan. Instead, the attraction focuses on an original storyline, set in the fictional Hotel Hightower. The ride tower is located in the American Waterfront area of the park, close to the S.S. Columbia ocean liner, and its facade is an example of Moorish Revival architecture. The ride system for this version is similar to that of the Disney California Adventure and Walt Disney Studios Park versions.
The storyline of the attraction is more complex than that of its American and European counterparts. The scenario involves the adventures of the hotel's famous builder and owner, Harrison Hightower III (modeled after Imagineering executive Joe Rohde), who went on many expeditions throughout the world and collected thousands of priceless artifacts. Most of these artifacts were stolen for personal gain and stored in his hotel, one of them is an idol named Shiriki Utundu, brought in by Hightower from an expedition to Africa. Hightower claimed that the natives were angry to have their beloved god taken, and that they threatened that the idol would curse him.
On New Year's Eve 1899, Hightower held a press conference about his expedition to Africa, followed by a party, where he boasted about how he acquired the idol and denied claims of it being cursed. Just as he left the party, he mocked the idol, using its head to put out his cigar. Around midnight, he entered the elevator to retire to his private apartments in the hotel penthouse. As the elevator neared the top, the idol came to life. The idol's rage and power caused the elevator to plummet and crash on the ground floor, with Hightower inside it; when the doors were pried open, only his hat and the idol were recovered. The hotel was abruptly closed and condemned for more than a decade, rumored by locals to be haunted. In 1912, following pressure to demolish the hotel, a New York restoration company reopened it because of its historical significance and now offers paid tours of the building. It is on these \"tours\" that guests embark when they enter the hotel.
The queue area winds through gardens filled with statues from many different countries up to the Hotel Hightower before guests then enter the lobby. On each ceiling arch is painted a mural of Hightower on one of his adventures, portraying his escape from native people with a valuable artifact or item in his possession. At the end of the lobby is the elevator in its destroyed state, its doors left open with only a single plank of wood holding them together. Guests are then ushered into a room filled with many photographs of Hightower, his expeditions, and his hotel.
Guests enter Hightower's office, where a large stained glass window depicts a confident Hightower, while Shiriki Utu