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Film / Tower of Terror

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Buzzy: Comin'?
Q: What, are you kidding, man? No way, this place is haunted.
Buzzy: Yeah, right.

Before Pirates of the Caribbean, this 1997 Made-for-TV Movie was the first film to be based on a ride from the Disney Theme Parks, in this case The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (though the film has no stated connection to The Twilight Zone). It was written and directed by D. J. MacHale, and premiered on ABC on October 26, 1997.

In 1999, a disgraced reporter named Buzzy Crocker (Steve Guttenberg) is stuck writing stories for the National Inquisitor tabloid after he submitted a false story to the Los Angeles Banner. He meets an old woman named Abigail Gregory (Amzie Strickland), who tells him the story of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, which was closed down back in The Golden Age of Hollywood after lightning struck the elevator and killed its five passengers sixty years earlier.

She claims that Emeline Partridge (Wendy Worthington), the nanny of child actress Sally Shine (Lindsay Ridgeway), was responsible for the horrible event, which put a curse on the hotel, trapping their spirits there. She begs him to go into the hotel and collect some items she needs to break the curse. Along with his niece Anna (Kirsten Dunst) and the inheritor of the hotel, Chris "Q" Todd (Mike McShane), Buzzy ventures into the hotel and is surprised at what he finds.

This film contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Doing the math, this film is set in 1999.
  • Adaptation Expansion: In the ride, the 5 passengers were just nameless characters that appeared at various points. The movie gives them names and some background along with some history of the hotel.
  • Aesop Collateral Damage: Abigail just wanted to kill her sister Sally. Gilbert, Carolyn, Dewey, and Emeline were just part of it.
  • All for Nothing: Abigail killed her sister and other innocent people, sabotaged her own surprise birthday party in 1939, and placed the entire hotel under a curse, and the town in chaos...over what basically amounts to nothing.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Abigail de-ages into a kid and disappears with Sally, presumably into the afterlife, despite not being dead. Was it a byproduct of the magic spell, or was Abigail a ghost all along? Also counts as a Riddle for the Ages.
  • Beneath the Mask: The prologue makes it seem as if child star Sally Shine is a bit of an Attention Whore, but her ghost implies otherwise by happily talking about how her sister was her best friend due to not caring that she was a star (or so she thought).
  • Big Bad: Abigail is responsible for all the danger in the film and Buzzy figuring out her curse is his main goal.
  • Cain and Abel: Abigail and Sally. Now imagine the Abel coming back as a ghost and Cain hunting him down still.
  • Canon Welding: D. J. MacHale's later book series The Pendragon Adventure makes reference to the events of this film. Which means it is also in the same continuity as Morpheus Road.
  • The Cassandra: No one believed Abigail about what happened which is good, because she was lying.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Q's "Cha-Ching".
    • Also, Dewey's "GO-ing up".
  • Chekhov's Gun: The service elevator, which wasn't damaged by the lightning strike.
  • The Chessmaster: Abigail making everyone collect items on a scavenger hunt in order to complete the spell.
  • Child Mage: Abigail, back in 1939 with the Book of Souls.
  • Children Are Innocent: Sally repeatedly shows this quality time and time again. By the end of the movie it becomes something of a plot point, and in the end breaks the curse.
  • Cool Uncle: Buzzy and his niece Anna get along great. He uses her to help fake tabloid photos, and she enjoys the experience.
    Anna's Mother: One day your uncle is gonna wake up and find out he's not a kid anymore.
    Anna: I hope not.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Sixty years of pain and multiple chaos could have been avoided if Abigail's family had simply not tried to keep her party a surprise.
  • Coup de Grâce: What Abigail hopes to accomplish. Tired of being haunted by her sister's memory and her ghost after killing her in 1939, she attempts a more potent spell that will send the elevator crashing down instead, wiping Sally out completely and sending her into Hell. It's fortunately thwarted in time.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Abigail's motivation is even more ridiculous when it's revealed she's a magical prodigy who is extremely good with magic, which is arguably far greater potential than a stage starlet. It seems she just wanted the attention.
  • De-aged in Death: After elderly Abby Gregory reconciles with the ghost of her sister Sally, who died as a child sixty years before, this allows Abby to rejoin her sister as a child, as she was in 1939, in the afterlife of the Tip-Top Club party they never reached when they were alive. Whether the reconciliation allowed Abby to pass on or she was Dead All Along remains an Ambiguous Situation.
  • Dead All Along: Claire Poulet, aka Carolyn Crosson, and if the ending is anything to go by, Abigail as well.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Emeline Partridge, nanny to child star Sally Shine, died in the elevator along with Sally and the other victims. Abigail blames Emeline and claims that she was the malevolent witch responsible for their deaths, but this turns out to be false and Emeline genuinely cared for Sally like her own daughter, while Abigail was the one who put the child star to her demise.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Jill's trust in Buzzy has been shaken ever since he got fired and constantly rejects any story he pitches whenever he pops up in her office. However, he gradually wins her back with his investigation on the hotel.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Yeah, cast a spell to kill your sister and four others and place a decades-long curse on an entire hotel, because you might possibly may have been jilted on your birthday.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Buzzy gets his job and Jill back, Q inherits and reopens the hotel and the ghosts are free, but only after going through hell, barely escaping death, and solving the mystery.
  • Easily Forgiven: Despite the fact that her sister killed her, and nearly tried to wipe her and the others from un-existence for good, Sally forgives Abigail, which breaks the spell. It does take a bit though.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: "The woman is completely nuts. She probably thinks that she's a witch."
  • Everyone Is Related: When it is revealed that Abigail is actually Sally's sister.
  • Evil Is Petty: Jealous of your famous sister and felt jilted on your birthday? Kill her with a magical spell while trapping her and other innocent people in an ongoing time loop and putting an entire town through hell for sixty years, and if that doesn't work, re-work the spell so she is permanently erased. It gets worse when the realization comes out,
  • Evil Laugh: Emeline gives one in Abigail's inaccurate flashback.
    • Littered all over the hotel when Buzzy is getting the book. When the creepy owl laughs, before Buzzy nearly gets stabbed with a pen dropped from the ceiling, when he's looking around after that...
    • And of course there's Abigail's after Steve and Anna find out Emeline wasn't behind the curse.
  • Face–Heel Turn: The mental institution director is very accommodating to Jill and properly concerned about his patients, right up until Jill finds evidence that a woman he released is dangerously unstable. He promptly snatches away her evidence, says he'll deny seeing it, and threatens to have her arrested for trespassing if she makes him look bad in the paper.
  • Famous Ancestor: Downplayed with Q's grandpa being one of the ghosts who disappeared and his great-grandpa building the heirloom hotel.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In the opening scene, Emeline puts a concerned hand on Shirley when the elevator suddenly stalls.
    • "I think I just let a ghost into your apartment".
  • Forgotten Birthday: Played straight, aside from the birthday girl having the biggest overreaction ever in the history of this trope. She finds out sixty years later that a Surprise Party had been planned. Oops.
  • Friendly Ghost: They are more than friendly, they are outright decent people, when they aren't trying to scare folks away of course. When Anna tells them she's here to help them, they're all ears to listen.
  • Friend-or-Idol Decision: Buzzy has to decide between helping the ghosts and getting his career back. He gets both.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: The 1939 scenes take place here. Note the "Interbellum" part is actually inaccurate. The 1939 scenes take place in October (on Halloween night, natch) and World War II started in September of that year, so strictly speaking, the setting is During the War. There is a mere technicality, of course. Tropewise, the 1939 scenes are played as Genteel Interbellum Setting, and no reference is made to the war. Besides, the setting is American, and the U.S. didn't join the war until 1941.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Abigail's whole motivation.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: The Ghosts (as well as the Hollywood Tower Hotel) are effectively trapped in 1939, waiting for October 31st to roll around each year, so they can try again to reach the party that is waiting for them on the top floor. If they fail, they simply linger around haunting the hotel until the date comes again.
  • Halloween Episode: Halloween is not only the night of the accident, but also Abigail's birthday.
  • Happily Ever After: Hey, even at its scariest, Disney is Disney. Sally and Abigail reconcile their relationship and break the curse of the Hotel, The Lost guests arrive at the party at the Tip-Top Club for Halloween and Abigail's birthday party, Buzzy resurrects his career and rekindles his relationship with Jill, Gilbert is finally able to propose to Carolyn on-stage, Q solves the mystery of his grandfather Dewey's disappearance and becomes the Hollywood Tower Hotel owner, and the Hotel itself, finally free of the curse, re-opens for business.
  • Hawaiian-Shirted Tourist: Chris "Q" Todd sports a tropically flower patterned button shirt.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Abigail turns to the side of good again after Sally forgives her.
  • Here We Go Again!: Said word-for-word by Dewey when the elevator gets stuck on the eleventh floor.
  • Impersonation-Exclusive Character: The real actress Buzzy hired is scared away by the ghosts offscreen, and Claire/Carolyn assumes her identity.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Sally Shine eerily sings "It's Raining, It's Pouring" as a ghost (just like in the ride) to Buzzy and Anna. Also serves as a Mythology Gag, as the girl can be heard singing it in the pre-show video on the ride.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Subverted in that Claire was able to appear in different 1930s outfits when she was pretending to be a present-day actress. Otherwise played straight.
  • Lighter and Softer: Only by a very slim margin from its source material. Still no walk in the park though. See Defanged Horrors above.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: Though it is magic lightning, so...
  • Like a Daughter to Me: With Sally and Emeline. After being accused of being the one who wanted to kill Sally, Emeline is horrified at the mere notion, and says that she loves Sally. "I couldn't love her more if she were me own daughter!"
  • Missing Child:
    • Child star Sally Shine's parents have to deal with their daughter vanishing from an elevator without a trace and their other daughter going insane afterward.
    • Dewey's father experiences similar grief when his son vanishes and never recovers from the tragedy.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: How Buzzy was fired from the newspaper company; they blamed him for the fake video of the mayor taking bribes from the Mob. In reality, it was some other guy who doctored the video.
  • Motive Rant: Abigail gives one at the end, about how everyone loved her sister but didn't care about her, and how her perceived Forgotten Birthday was the last straw. Her rant gets derailed when the ghost of her sister, the person who loved her the most, shows up in person and tells her that the party she wanted to throw was a surprise birthday party for Abigail.
  • Mr Fix It: Played with Chris "Q" Todd, who doubles as the Plucky Comic Relief.
  • Mythology Gag: The film opens with a band playing "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)," one of the 1930s jazz songs that plays at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
  • Never Found the Body: No traces of the victims in the Elevator were found. They just disappeared without a trace. Magical lightning can do that.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The movie was released in 1997, but takes place in 1999. Either that or the characters are rounding up when they refer to 1939 as "sixty years ago".
  • Noodle Incident: Buzzy alludes to a past date that he and Jill went on, where she tried to free some lobsters from a restaurant.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Buzzy gets Sally to do this to Abigail at the end when she expresses how sorry she is that she never made it to the surprise party she was throwing for her sister's birthday.
  • Oblivious to Hatred: Sally truly loved her sister Abigail, who couldn't stand her. But being a child, Sally wasn't aware Abby was plotting to kill her. When Sally finds out the truth, it's awkward and it takes a little bit for them to reconcile.
  • Old Flame: Jill to Buzzy.
  • On One Condition: According to Q, Dewey Todd's father, the owner of the hotel, closed the Hollywood Towers down after his son's disappearance. According to Mr. Todd's will, the hotel can only be reopened if Dewey's fate is revealed. After the curse is broken and Buzzy prints the story, this is considered good enough for the estate and the hotel resumes business.
  • The Power of Love: What ultimately breaks the spell.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Sally's pink, frilly, puffy-sleeved dress.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Abigail thought that getting rid of Sally would solve her problems, but instead the stress of the ordeal drove her completely insane, so badly that she was hospitalized from the time she was ten up until right before the plot began - sixty whole years. And it's implied her lucidity was only due to the focus that came from coming up with her new Evil Plan.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: While not believing Buzzy about the ghosts, Jill at least do some background check about Abigail.
  • Red Herring: Emeline was thought to be the culprit behind the whole curse. But when called out on it, she reveals she would never do anything like that to Sally. The other ghosts likewise vouch for her.
  • Retraux: Claire's song at the end, "Boy of my Dreams," is a 1930s-styled song written for the film.
  • Trunk Full Of Crazy: Abigail has a trunk filled with photos and two newspapers of Sally with her face slashed out, a doll of Sally with her head partially decapitated, and the words "HATE", "PAIN" "BAD" written all over the place in black and red.
  • Sanity Slippage: Abigail cast the magical spell that killed her sister and the others on the elevator in 1939 in hopes of ridding her of Sally forever, but it only made her sister even MORE famous as a legendary ghost whose death overshadowed her birthday (October 31st) for the next sixty years, which drove Abigail off the deep end as she aged into her elder years, to the point she tries a more potent spell that will send Sally's ghost to Hell for eternity.
  • Shirley Template: Sally Shine is quite obviously Shirley Temple.
  • Stupid Evil: When it's revealed that the party in 1939 was all for Abigail's birthday and Sally was going to attend. Abigail sabotaged her own birthday party and killed her sister for basically nothing.
  • Surprise Party: What the party back in 1939 is revealed to be. Specifically, it was a birthday party for Abigail.
  • Sympathetic Magic: The focus for the original spell was a lock of Sally's hair. However, because there were other people on the elevator with her and no personal items from them were included in the casting, this is why the passengers are trapped in limbo between life and death rather than sent to an eternity of torture in Hell as the caster intended. In the caster's defense, she didn't expect other people to get on the elevator with Sally. And she was also just a child at the time. As a result, such items must be located in the present day, to help break the spell or as it actually turns out, to recast it the right way this time.
  • The Unfavorite: Abigail to Sally, or so she thought.
  • Unfinished Business: The ghosts can't leave until they reach the party on the top floor.
  • Wicked Witch: A witch is behind the curse. She was a young girl when she cast the spell, but now looks like a proper witch in the present.