Director D.J. McHale manages to take what is a very simple but iconic ride for Disney World and transform it in to a pretty engrossing and charming supernatural thriller. “Tower of Terror,” now being remade in to a bigger budget Hollywood film, is one of the very few adaptations from Disney that not too many people are aware of. It precedes “Pirates of the Caribbean” and adds a neat mythology to the ride overall. “Tower of Terror” (sans the “Twilight Zone” connection) is something like “The Shining” except filled with a much sweeter tale about jealousy, grief, and a gross misunderstanding. Steve Guttenberg plays tabloid photographer Buzzy, a once prominent journalist now reduced to taking pictures for goofy supermarket papers. Alongside his loyal niece Anna (a teenaged Kirsten Dunst), the pair begin investigating the dreaded Hollywood Towers.
Back in the late thirties, a group of party goers including a young actress, and a famed singer were on their way to a party in the high rise. The elevator car dropped killing everyone, and allegedly spawned a curse on the towers where the ghosts of the dead haunt the corridors. As Buzzy begins looking in to the towers with Anna, they learn the big mystery behind the deaths, including a potential curse unleashed on the guests within the elevator car by a vengeful witch. Meanwhile the ghosts of the Towers may or may not be friendly, even as they manifest at random and begin speaking to Anna, who takes it upon herself to charge in to the Towers to uncover the unusual deaths that occurred. The cast do a relatively bang up job including Dunst who has a great chemistry with Guttenberg as the film’s humble hero.
Things take a peculiar turn when Buzzy begins forming a friendship with actress Claire, who seems insistent on getting Buzzy to uncover the Tower’s mystery. Granted while I saw the twist coming miles away, it’s tough to deny the charm of Melora Hardin. “Tower of Terror” does a bang up job of taking what’s normally a “Twilight Zone” based ride with a paper thin premise and turning it in to a really heartbreaking tale with remarkable tension thanks to the key plot device being an early twentieth century elevator. I’m not sure how drastically the remake is going to alter the narrative, but “Tower of Terror” stands on its own as a strong adaptation of the iconic Disney attraction.