Editor’s Note: “Road to the Ride” was a column that focused on the background and development of Disney attractions, including all the twists and turns a project takes as it goes from original concept to theme park attraction. This article was originally published on June 16th, 2018, but we figured we’d bring back this lively tale of how Mel Brooks became entangled in the Tower’s history in honor of the attraction’s 25th anniversary. Tower of Terror is my all-time favorite attraction, and its backstory is just one of the reasons I love it so much. Enjoy, and make sure you pull on those yellow straps.
It’s been almost 24 years since the Tower of Terror dropped into our lives, but the attraction we got back in 1994 barely resembles the original idea the Imagineers came up with. Let’s take a look at the Castle that almost was.
Meetings with Mel
In 1989, the Imagineers were meeting with Mel Brooks. Yes, Disney’s attraction creators were meeting with the man who brought us Blazing Saddles and Spaceballs.
While Mel Brooks and Disney might seem like a strange mix to you and me, Michael Eisner sure didn’t think so. The goal was to convince Brooks to begin producing his films using the facilities at the newly-opened Disney-MGM Studios. Mel and his son Max were huge fans of Disneyland, so Eisner thought he could tempt him to work with Disney. Disney-MGM Studios in Walt Disney World was a new concept; Universal had a backlot in Hollywood that wasn’t really a theme park, and was building a theme park in Florida that wasn’t really a working studio. Combining the two was something different, and Brooks’s ride would be getting in on the ground floor of the new park.
The Castle Conundrum
After six trips to Imagineering and many phone calls, Brooks was ready to start his attraction. At the time, the goal was to be funny and scary, which is what led the Imagineers to create “Castle Young Frankenstein.” The funny/scary vibe fit well with one of Brooks’s most popular movies. Young Frankenstein was about a young man finishing his grandfather’s work for the Frankenstein name. The attraction would be in the castle, with the queue winding through the streets of Bavaria.
That idea didn’t quite work out, so the attraction then became “Mel Brooks’s Hollywood Horror Hotel.” It was going to be a walk-on attraction where guests were invited to the set of Mel Brooks’s new movie, filmed at a genuine haunted house. They would interact with the actors who weren’t really actors, like Dracula and Frankenstein.
The attraction building concept was an art-deco Los Angeles hotel, with ivy and broken windows. The queue led to a part of the hotel that was marked condemned. The Kirk brothers, Steve and Tim, had an additional idea that the show building would actually be multiple buildings. Via different forms of transportation, guests would be brought into many of Brooks’s different movies. This was a way for the Imagineers to try to keep part of Castle Young Frankenstein, the idea that Brooks really wanted.
Tower of Terror
In the end, Brooks was not appeased by any of the ideas, and moved on to film the movie Life Stinks. But before he left, he did have one idea he tossed out. One of the transportation methods in the hotel concept would be an elevator, but not just an ordinary elevator. This elevator would move off its track, going through the hallways, and even crash out of the side of the building. When the Imagineers put the hotel idea and the elevator idea together, the “Tower of Terror” was born.
From Comedy to Horror
With the “Tower” in mind, the Imagineers went back to the drawing board. They decided to create a ride with the feel of a show that they had all wanted to recreate before: The Twilight Zone. They acquired rights and began to study 156 episodes of the show for their new ride. In fact, they pulled from many of the episodes to design their ride, whether people know it or not.
Although there is no actual episode about the a Tower of Terror or a Hollywood Tower Hotel, Rod Sterling’s introduction was pulled from the episode “It’s a Good Life.” The voice you hear, however, is actually voice actor Mark Silverman. The scene in the ride that takes place in the Fifth Dimension is inspired by the episode, “Little Girl Lost.” And in the elevators themselves, there’s an inspection certificate, signed by a Mr. Cadwallader. In the episode “Escape Clause,” Mr. Cadwallader is revealed to be the devil.
The Brooks Legacy
For the record, Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) still honors Brooks. Near the center of the park, by Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner, there are a bunch of fake shipping crates. Each one has a movie address on it, like one going to Rick’s Cafe from Casablanca. Another one is addressed to Max Bialystock, from Brooks’s The Producers.
Are you a fan of the frightening “Tower of Terror?” Or would you have much rather seen a Mel Brooks theme and die laughing instead?