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.
Steve Guttenberg plays a disgraced reporter named Buzzy Crocker, who is stuck doing tabloid stories after submitting a story that turned out to be false. He meets an old woman named Abigail, 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.
She claims that Emeline Partridge, the nanny of child actress Sally Shine, 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 and the inheritor of the hotel, Chris "Q" Todd, Buzzy ventures into the hotel and is surprised at what he finds.
This film contains examples of:
- 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.
- Big Bad: Abigail is responsible for all the danger in the film and Buzzy figuring out her curse is his main goal.
- The Cassandra: No one believed Abigail about what happened which is good, because she was lying.
- Q's "Cha-Ching".
- Also, Dewey's "GO-ing up".
- 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.
- "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.
- Dead All Along: Claire Poulet, aka Carolyn Crosson.
- 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.
- 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 and barely escaping death, solving the mystery.
- "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 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.
- Famous Ancestor: Downplayed with Q's grandpa being one of the ghosts who disappeared and his great-grandpa building the heirloom hotel.
- Foreshadowing: "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.
- 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.
- Halloween Episode: Halloween is not only the night of the accident, but also Abigail's birthday.
- HeelFace 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.
- 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.
- 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!"
- Miscarriage of Justice / Karma Houdini: How Buzzy was fired from the newspaper company, they blamed him for the fake photographs of the mayor taking bribes from a mob. In realty, it was some other guy who made the photographs up.
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- 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 be 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.
- 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 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.
- Shirley Template: Sally Shine is quite obviously Shirley Temple.
- Surprise Party: What the party back in 1939 is revealed to be. Specifically, it was a birthday party for Abigail.
- 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.