TERROR DROPS INTO ANAHEIM

etixland's Review of DCA's Transplanted Tower

CHECKING INTO THE HOLLYWOOD TOWER

Once inside, the Tower's theme finally kicks into high gear as depicted in the somewhat small but open space of the Hotel lobby. Here the show's dark mood seeps into view through the fractured stucco walls, subverting the foyer's opulent appearance with an undercurrent of haunted decay.

The room is richly detailed, from the appropriate period furniture and light fixtures, to the forlorn personal effects of the Hotel's long lost guests who hastily left behind a pair of glasses, a newspaper and a child's doll (always a creepy touch). This ghostly snapshot of a bygone era gets a liberal — sometimes too thick — application of musty cobwebs to complete the lobby's forsaken look. Even the faux potted palms sag, wilting under implied thirst, as do desiccated flowers adorning the base of the eagle statuette. Such details as the undead flora effectively sell the somber, disquieting aura of this cursed Hotel, which smartly keeps guests moving through the lobby to proceed deeper into the attraction.

At the dusty, webbed front desk with its abandoned key boxes, one of the Hotel staff greets walk-in guests to secure their accommodation in the hotel, dividing groups for admittance to the libraries: one on the right side (next to the portrait at the end of the corridor, see photo), and a second library on the left (to the immediate left of the camera position in photo). In between these two libraries stand broken and blown-out steel cage doors, introducing the Tower's disastrous history with its elevator service.

In this corridor, the crumbling, cracked plaster motif grows more prevalent and severe. It's a subtle effect on guest psychology, but as visitors wait to enter the library, they consciously or unwittingly absorb the quiet message that things are going from bad to worse, and not all the damage afflicting the Tower was left on its shattered facade.

As expected, Disney exploits this queue storytelling opportunity to good effect — the results could only be improved if this waiting area were farther away or lengthier to give its atmosphere more chance to settle into guests' minds and build greater anticipation. Also, I detected no mood music or sound effects to heighten the creep factor, but I suspect that the ride's thus-far efficient loading cycle might just keep guest waits in the hallway too short for such environmental embellishments to really pay off.

[For now, I lack any good photograph inside the library, so here's a crappy partial image I have off the Twilight Zone video played on the television. Enjoy!]

Once guided inside the library, guests are momentarily left to peruse and puzzle over the odd, seemingly random collection of objects d'art, trinkets and souvenirs assembled for viewing. If nothing else, all this wealth of detail occupies guests' minds while they try to make sense of, or at least see all the props in the room. Actually some objects stashed throughout this entry floor of the Hotel do relate to episodes of the original Twilight Zone series — sort of the Hidden Mickey quest in the Tower of Terror. But mostly, the library bric-a-brac offer a nondescript impression of bizarre history with no single thread connecting them... except for the thousands of dusty web strands strung between them.

The main focus of the room is the TV screen stashed amid the bookcase near the window, and when the sudden lightning flash strikes, the room lamps die out and the video begins: Rod Serling and Imagineer magic set guests on their destined journey to terror with no turning back. This resurrection of the late Serling, with convincing voice-over work matching his voice and patching in the spiel script, works just as effectively in Anaheim as it did in Florida, with DCA's Tower spliced into the Anaheim presentation, of course.

The library scene hardly matches the Haunted Mansion's stretching gallery for sheer scare factor and theatrics — and this is far too modest a space to attempt competition — but the video backstory efficiently and economically sets up everything guests need to know for the ride to come. Also, the television medium brings an immediate familiarity to delivering the thematic concept: audiences familiar with the TZ show enjoy the potential interaction with this TV classic, and those too young to know old Rod himself can simply pick up the story with ease.

A hidden doorway opens to reveal guests' secret passage into the bowels of the Hollywood Tower, and the final earthly stop before thrill seekers enter that eerie dimension beyond reality...

© 2004 scott weitz