Welcome back to my Twilight Zone Marathon! Let me preface this review with two things: One, my boyfriend challenged me to watch and review this movie, and two, I have never been on the ride itself. I know it’s based on Twilight Zone and have seen photos and such, but because I’m prone to motion sickness I’ve never had the courage to take it on. With that said, we’ve got a lot to cover today, so let’s get to it. This is “Disney’s Tower of Terror.”
For those who don’t know, the Tower of Terror ride in Hollywood Studios revolves around a Twilight Zone-ish plot involving the ghosts of a crashed elevator. And, like many of their rides, a movie loosely based on it was made in 1997 starring Steve Guttenberg and a young Kirsten Dunst. Unfortunately, it was also a made-for-TV family friendly film, making it fall in line with the poorer Disney ride films.
The plot is this: Buzzy Crocker (Guttenberg), a disgraced former news photographer, has been bumming around doing fake stories for tabloids with his niece, Anna. When an old lady named Abigail comes to him with a ghost story about the Hollywood Hotel, Buzzy jumps at the chance to create the biggest story of his life. But, unfortunately for him, the ghosts ARE real and they need a little help crossing over. Will Buzzy give them the help they need, or will he be too wrapped up in helping his career?
I went into this movie knowing the poor reputation it had, and while there were some aspects I felt were done well, it had many problems. The plot creates this elaborate story where a witch cast a spell causing the guests (basically taken from the ride) to die on the elevator. There are several twists within the film, most of them happening even before the end to, I guess, create a big climax. They all felt shoved in and I thought they would’ve been stronger (by kids movie terms) if they had been paced out. I also felt the story would’ve been more interesting if we’d spent more time with the ghosts instead of bumbling around with Buzzy wanting to jumpstart his career.
Speaking of Buzzy, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t stand Guttenberg as an actor. His reactions to the ghosts and spooky happenings seemed to be either slight confusion or dull surprise. Buzzy as a character was your stereotypical dick who learns his lesson in the end. And, as a supposed photographer/former journalist, he failed to really research Abigail and her story. That slack gets picked up by his former editor/apparent ex. I just found Buzzy uninteresting and moronic as the main lead.
On the flipside, I did enjoy Anna. Dunst had a relatively crappy script to work from, but she’s still a good actress and does her best here. Anna is also a good character in that she actually investigates and gets stuff done, unlike her dopey uncle. While she fell prey to a couple inane moments, I thought she would’ve made a better lead character than Buzzy.
Abigail was portrayed pretty well, although she gets very hokey and a bit hammy at times during the movie. Because she’s one of the few living people from the night the guests were killed, a few of the plot developments surround her, and for the most part they work, Still, her character was more a plot device than anything. I won’t say much more about her to spoil anything, of course.
The only other individual character I’ll talk about is the quintessential comic relief. In this film, it’s Chris “Q” Todd, the grandson of one of the guests who died. While he does play a major role in the climax, his main role is to act like a scaredy-cat and suck at fixing things. He does get a couple funny lines, but mostly I felt he was useless. Even when he finally became useful, I felt the only reason he’d been there was for that one moment. It seemed like the movie wouldn’t have missed much otherwise without him.
Finally, there are the ghosts themselves. One is a child star, two are a couple, one is the bellhop and the other is the star’s nanny. There is a red herring placed around one of the ghosts which was not bad. I thought all the ghosts were interesting and wished the movie would’ve focused more on them. The child star does play a central part in the plot, which was decently done. But it felt as though the subplot of Buzzy’s career got in the way of their story.
Aside from some bouts of bad acting, I thought the script was okay. I felt it could’ve been a more interesting story if it was treated with better acting and a stronger plot. Having a movie based on a ride with no Twilight Zone elements beyond twists (if that even counts) felt like a missed opportunity. Maybe it was a copyright thing, but it was disappointing. I have heard that the basic Twilight Zone-esque story for the ride is pretty good, so that only alleviated my disappointment when there was no sort of reference here, not even a shot of the TV show.
I do have a few positives about the movie, however. The acting and writing is good in places and the ending for the ghosts is heartwarming. The effects, despite being cheesy, weren’t as bad as I expected them to be and there wasn’t an overabundance of them. I loved the use of the Tower itself and the references to the actual ride (barring the Twilight Zone stuff). It had a good, spooky setting that made use of the basic plot elements from the ride.
Overall, though, I can’t say I’d recommend “Disney’s Tower of Terror” unless you enjoy cheesy, kinda bad films or movies based on anything Disney. One of my major issues with it is that, as a kids movie, it seems to talk down to its core audience by outright saying what has clearly happened on-screen. It drove me nuts, and while the argument of “Kids will watch anything” has some validity, this felt like it fell into the “Kids are dumb” trap. Maybe that wasn’t the intention, but it might have benefited greatly from not pointing out the obvious so much. In that regard, this one’s forgettable at best and pretty bad at worst.
So, that’s the end of my Twilight Zone Marathon. I hope you enjoyed following my journey into this classic show (and meh movie). Who knows? Maybe I’ll do something like this again next year. Until then, I’ll be taking a long break from anything Twilight Zone-related. Have a happy Halloween and thanks for reading!