Situated at the end of Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Sunset Boulevard is the once-glamorous Hollywood Hotel, aka the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. A mecca for stars of the silver screen during Hollywood’s Golden Age, the structure now stands abandoned with overgrown grounds and unkempt corridors, visages of its glory days dormant under dust and doom.
You see, on Halloween night, 1939, a violent storm struck the building, whisking five unfortunate souls “beyond the fifth dimension.” Whatever became of them remains a mystery to this day. The Hotel closed down that night and has remained untouched since that disastrous eve.
Wrought-iron gates edge the establishment, guiding Guests through overgrown gardens and faded fountains to tour the onetime haunt of Tinseltown’s rich and famous. Visitors daring to darken the doors of the Hotel meander through the cobwebbed lobby, which is frozen in time, where luggage stands near the corner and glamorous adornment hides under disarray.
In a lightning-lit library, a television pops on, airing Rod Serling’s invitation into the Twilight Zone. Guests are then led down a shadowy passage into the basement boiler room to the only Tower access—the “fright elevator.” Strap into the rickety shaft while lights buzz and flicker above and begin your journey into the fifth dimension.
The vessel launches upward in darkness until the doors crack open. Down a long hallway, otherworldly Hotel inhabitants from 1939 beckon you to join them, then dematerialize and your journey continues upward. Your vehicle glides through a star-filled realm then locks into position.
You will shriek in terror as your elevator goes up, then down, then maybe up again…or down. Random drops depart the 13th floor, and freefall/launch directions are determined by the Tower itself. Occasional glimpses of the Hotel grounds whiz past when the elevator doors inexplicably open and close. Plummet downward and burst upward over and over again, while snaps of cables sound and metal clangs around you.
Today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction at Walt Disney World Resort. For 20 years, this ride has been sending shouts and screams echoing through the streets of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and it has come time for you to decide: Will you dare the doom?
If you are unable to visit the Tower during this special anniversary year, you can create some of its special effects at home! Pepper’s Ghost Effects, named for John Henry Pepper who first used the technique in the 1800s, are special effects utilized in Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough, Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion, and numerous other attractions at Disney Parks. Although I could not find confirmation that this is the technique used at Tower of Terror, research heavily leans toward the Pepper’s Ghost explanation.
The illusion utilizes a plate glass and special lighting to make objects seem to appear or disappear or morph into another object. This Wikipedia article and this Wdwmagic.com forum discussion explain the process very well. In order for the illusion to work, the viewer must be able to see into the main room, but not into the hidden mirror/projection room. The edge of the glass may be hidden by a cleverly designed pattern in the floor. Both rooms may be identical mirror-images; this approach is useful in making objects seem to appear or disappear. This effect can also be used to make an actor reflected in the mirror appear to turn into an actor behind the mirror (or vice versa). The mirror room may instead be painted black, with only light-colored objects in it. When light is cast on the objects, they reflect strongly in the glass, making them appear as ghostly images superimposed in the visible room.
Read the Wikipedia article in its entirety, studying the included diagrams. Then, using cardboard boxes or a large dollhouse if you have one, create a Pepper’s Ghost, and invite your own friends into the Twilight Zone.