October 26, 1997 – The Made-for-Television Movie Tower of Terror Premieres on The Wonderful World of Disney
“It’s in his will: nobody touches nothing until somebody figures out what happened to Grandpa Dewey.”
On October 26, 1997, the made-for-television movie Tower of Terror premiered on ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney. This film was one of the first attempts Disney had at creating a film based on a popular Disney attraction. An accurate replica of the attraction was built in a warehouse, as they were unable to film in the attraction. The film was written and directed by D. J. MacHale, and stars Steve Guttenberg as Buzzy, Kirsten Dunst as Anna, Nia Peeples as Jill, Michael McShane as Q, Amzie Strickland as Abigail, Melora Hardin as Carolyn, Alastair Duncan as Gilbert London, Lindsay Ridgeway as Sally Shine, John Franklin as Dewey, and Wendy Worthington as Miss Partridge.
The film begins in 1939, with a mysterious voice casting a spell while setting fire to an invitation for a party at the Hollywood Tower Hotel on Halloween night. The party is already in full swing as a storm approaches the building. A young child actress named Sally Shine is seen arriving at the hotel, while another little girl watches her jealously. As Sally boards the elevator with her governess, a young couple, and a bellhop, the elevator comes to a violent stop at the eleventh floor, and the power flickers on and off. Green lightning strikes the tower, and the inhabitants of the elevator shield their eyes from a bright light.
In present day, Buzzy Crocker is setting up a photo shoot with his niece, Anna, where Anna is dressed as an alien, with another actor acting as a doctor doing an autopsy. Buzzy left the world of real journalism behind years ago and takes fake photographs for tabloids. At the office of the Los Angeles Banner, managing editor Jill Perry tries to avoid Buzzy when he stops by, but finds that he’s already in her office. He tries to pitch her a story, but she brushes him off once again. The two used to date, but Jill isn’t sure if he misses her, or the rush of the newspaper game. Back at home, an old woman shows up at his apartment, asking for his help. Her name is Abigail Gregory, and she is a fan of his, believing that his insight into the supernatural is amazing. She offers him a story about the Hollywood Terror Hotel, where five people disappeared on Halloween night in 1939, including Sally Shine, as she was there that night. She reveals that it was her birthday that night, and that Sally’s governess Emeline Partridge was responsible for the disappearance, as she was a real witch. She claims that Miss Partridge hated Sally, and had set an evil trap for her charge.
Unfortunately for Abigail, Buzzy doesn’t believe her. She gets terribly upset, as no one has ever believed her before, and believes that Buzzy is the only person who could get her story to the public. He further upsets her by admitting freely that all the stories he writes are lies. She then shows him proof with a key to the basement of the hotel, where Miss Partridge’s book must still be. He finally takes the bait, and decides to go see if she really is telling the truth. He arrives at the abandoned hotel, and hears a strange noise inside. The strange noise comes from the caretaker Q, who loves to play pranks on people that stop by. His great-grandfather built the place, and his grandfather, Dewey Todd, was the bellhop that disappeared in the elevator. Q reveals that once the mystery is solved, he inherits the hotel, which he believes will make him a lot of money.; however, Q refuses to enter the hotel with Buzzy, as he also believes it is haunted. Buzzy searches the hotel for any evidence of Abigail’s story, and heads down to the basement, where he finds the spell book. Buzzy then notices a few mysterious happenings, but decides to leave before anything else happens.
Buzzy decides to pursue the story, and enlists the help of Anna to play Sally Shine for his photographs. An actress arrives at the hotel named Claire Poulet, and while Buzzy is smitten with her, he thinks she’s too young to play the part. She leaves dejectedly, but Buzzy changes his mind, as he’ll doctor the photos later anyway. The three start to hear music, and Buzzy heads to the kitchen to investigate. In the kitchen, he hears the voices of kitchen staff, but no one is there. Anna joins him in the kitchen, and they carefully look around when they hear a voice singing a nursery rhyme. The dishes begin to rattle in the cabinets, and they see the ghost of a young girl skipping toward them surrounded by green raindrops. Behind them, a headless body makes its way over to them on a cart, holding a cleaver. Buzzy and Anna run out, screaming about how the place is haunted. Buzzy decides to bring Jill back tomorrow to prove that there are ghosts at the Hollywood Tower Hotel. When he heads back to the Banner to talk to her, she finally takes him up on his story, but is soon annoyed that this seems to be another one of his lame tabloid stories, and tells him to never come back to her office again. After he leaves, however, she decides to run a background check on Abigail Gregory, taking the story in her own hands.
Back at Buzzy’s apartment, Abigail goes through the book, and finds that the spell was supposed to send Sally to hell for eternal torture, but since there were no identifying items for the other victims on the elevator, the spell didn’t work, and sent all the inhabitants into a state of limbo. On Halloween night, Abigail says she could break the spell, once they get identifiers from all the other ghosts. Later that night, Anna asks why Buzzy is working so hard on this story, and he reveals he’s excited he can finally write about something he believes in. The next day, Q provides an identifier from his grandfather, and Anna goes inside to get an identifier for the other two guests, when Claire arrives, dressed as a governess. Buzzy decides to take pictures of Claire instead of searching, and Anna decides to go inside by herself. Buzzy reveals to Claire that he used to work for the Banner, when he got duped with a false tip and got fired. Meanwhile, the ghosts try to scare Anna away, but stops their attack once Anna says she wants to help them. The ghost of Sally Shine tells Anna she needs to fix the elevator, as they need to get to the party.
Jill arrives at the nearby sanitarium, where Abigail is staying, and has been staying since 1940. She is let into Abigail’s room, and the manager reveals that Sally Shine was Abigail’s sister. As he leaves, Jill does some snooping, and finds that Abigail kept a secret compartment in her trunk, where she shows her true hatred and jealousy for her sister Sally, including a decapitated doll. Back at the hotel, Anna finds the suitcase of Carolyn Crosson, and grabs an identifier from her jewelry box. Pulling out a locket, she realizes that Claire is actually Carolyn. The ghost of Gilbert London appears, and Anna and Buzzy watch as the ghosts argue amongst themselves. Carolyn then appears in a grand fashion, and apologizes for the ruse, but she needed to see if she could trust them. Anna explains to the group why they didn’t arrive at the party, but Miss Partridge arrives and debunks their theory. Outside, Abigail laughs, as she believes she can get rid of Sally once and for all. Miss Partridge reveals that if they could get to the party, the curse would be over. Buzzy then decides to fix the elevator, using Q’s help. Unfortunately, Q feels that he is unable to help, as he considers himself useless. Jill arrives at Buzzy’s apartment and drops the bombshell that Abigail is Sally’s sister, and deranged at that. Jill gives Buzzy the opportunity to write a story and have it published in the Banner, and Buzzy gets so exicted he forgets about the ghosts. Anna reminds him of his promise, but Buzzy tells her he’s waited so long for his chance. Anna angrily decides to go help them herself after Buzzy takes off. Abigail, who has been hiding in Buzzy’s closet, steps out and takes the remaining identifiers after everyone leaves, laughing maniacally.
Anna and Q arrive back at the hotel after the power has been turned back on. Q reluctantly enters the hotel, and finally meets his grandfather, who begs Q for his help. Q agrees, wanting to help his grandfather. Meanwhile, Buzzy is struggling to write the story, as he wants to keep his promise to Anna. He finally leaves and goes to the hotel, with Jill following him. Abigail arrives at the hotel and makes her way unnoticed to the basement to create the spell. Q struggles with the elevator, as the circuits keep blowing up on him. When Buzzy goes back to his apartment to get the book, he realizes that Abigail had lied the entire time – she was the witch that casted the spell, damning her sister. In the basement, Abigail begins the spell again, and the storm returns. Anna hears the voice of Abigail, and follows her to the conjuring table. Q finally gets the elevator to work, and the guests are excited as they race for the elevator. Anna stops Abigail, but it’s already too late, as the spell has been cast, and the elevator will crash as it should have sixty years ago. Anna runs to the elevator, and accidentally boards the elevator while Sally steps off. Buzzy tries to stop her, but realizes that she’s about to die along with the others. Sally follows Buzzy, Jill, and Q to the basement to stop Abigail, but she protests that she’s waited her entire life for revenge. Abigail explains that everyone loved Sally, and no one cared about her. Halloween was her birthday, and no one even cared. Driven mad by jealousy, she casts the spell to kill her sister. Sally appears, and asks Abigail if she knows her sister. Buzzy asks Sally that if she could talk to Abigail, what would she say, and Sally apologizes for not making it to her surprise birthday party. Sally considered Abigail her best friend, and had a birthday present of a charm bracelet for her.
The elevator is stuck on the eleventh floor again, and Buzzy convinces Abigail to do something to reverse the spell. Abigail apologizes to Sally for her mistake, and Buzzy realizes that “a spell of passion can be countered by its contrary,” but Abigail doesn’t know what that means. The group takes the service elevator to try and save Anna, while Abigail and Sally stand around uncomfortably. Abigail asks Sally if she’ll ever forgive her, and Sally hands her the bracelet. The spell begins its work, and both elevators start plummeting. Sally says that she forgives Abby, and the two turn into bright lights and stop the elevators from crashing to the ground. Jill realizes that Sally’s love for Abigail broke the spell, and the ghosts invite the group to the party; the group agrees, and decide to take the stairs, just to be safe. Everyone reaches the party, safe and sound. As everyone finally accomplishes what they dreamed – Dewey reunites with his father, Carolyn gets to sing, Gilbert proposes to Carolyn, Miss Partridge gets Sally back to her parents, and Sally is reunited with her entire family – they are finally able to set their souls to rest and disappear. Jill gives Buzzy a kiss, giving him a second-chance at the paper, and at their relationship. Q finally gets his hotel, and opens it with a swanky shindig. The story ends with Buzzy making the front page once again with the story on the hotel.