Tower of Terror (1997) – reviewed by George

Eddie Murphy made “The Haunted Mansion” (2003) and Steve Guttenberg made this movie six years before: both films are based on rides at Disneyland, but Murphy’s opened in theaters and Guttenberg’s opened on your TV. And yet this is the better movie. Both celebrate family values, but Tower of Terror is more touching.
The film begins at the Hollywood Tower Hotel, 12 floors of luxury right in front of the HOLLYWOOD sign. On Halloween, 1939, in the Tip-Top Club on 12, the joint is jumping’ with good jazz, celebs galore, and happy dancing. At the same time the main elevator is carrying five passengers to the Club for the party to celebrate Little Sally Shine, the fabulous child star. The five are: Sally herself (Lindsay Ridgeway), her nanny Emmeline Partridge (Wendy Worthington), Carolyn Crosson (Melora Hardin), the young singer about to get what ought to be her first big break using her new stage name Claire Poulet, her boyfriend Gilbert London (Alastair Duncan), and the elevator operator Dewey Todd (John Franklin). A storm has been brewing and the elevator stalls on 11 and then is hit by lightning. Instead of being killed, the five disappear. And Sally becomes a Hollywood legend.
Sixty years later Buzzy Crocker (Steve Guttenberg), a newsman once well regarded, but due to hubris now disgraced and forgotten, still thinks he can make a comeback. He just needs one big story. He depends on his sister Patricia Petterson (Lela Ivey) and his niece Anna Petterson (Kirsten Dunst) for support, but simply does not in any way match their care and generosity because he is always running after that story. He keeps in touch with Jill Perry (Nia Peeples) at his old paper, but she is pretty disdainful of his attempts to get back on top, and rightly so; his ideas are not that good. Then Buzzy meets an elderly woman, Abigail Gregory (Amzie Strickland), who knows some stuff about the tragedy at the hotel that night because her family lived there and she saw Sally a lot, including that Halloween evening. We see young Abigail (Shira Roth) spying on Sally and Miss Partridge. Abigail tells Buzzy that the nanny, Miss Partridge, was a witch and used her magic on Halloween to get rid of Sally, a spoiled brat if there ever was one. Neither she nor the other three people were supposed to be affected. As Buzzy hangs around the hotel to pursue the story he meets Chris “Q” Todd (Michael McShane), who is the caretaker for the shuttered hotel and also is the grandson of Dewy Todd.  “Q” is afraid of ghosts, so never enters the hotel, but is happy to tell Buzzy that Dewey’s father was the owner, and if the place can ever open again, he, “Q”, will be the owner: “Cha-ching!”
As Halloween approaches and the chance to save the five with witchcraft seems pretty good (spells can be undone by the “contrary” spell), Buzzy is torn by an offer from Jill to work the story for the wire services, and ends up choosing the selfish path again.
Melora Hardin gets a chance to sing, as she did in Disney’s “The Rocketeer” and later in the series “Wedding Band”.
We feel sure that values will win, and all will be well, but the way in which this happens reflects very well on the writer-director, D.J. MacHale, a name I will now be looking for. And yes, the movie has its scary moments, but in a Disney, safe-for-ten-year-olds way.

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