- “Despite all my investigations, I've never been able to prove anything, but I've come to this conclusion: the hotel is cursed! There is no other explanation.”
- ―Manfred Strang, 1912
Unlike its American counterpart, the attraction isn't themed after The Twilight Zone as Japanese audiences aren't as familiar with the show and the company that owns the park didn't want to pay both CBS and Disney in royalties. Instead, it features an original storyline taking place at Hotel Hightower, utilizing the Society of Explorers and Adventurers storyline that already exists within the park.
The hotel's design is based on a mishmash of Gothic Revival and Moorish Revival architecture (or Neo-Moorish), popular with American and European architects during the 19th and early 20th centuries when the increasing exploitation of European colonies in the Middle East and Africa brought back a thirst for all things "oriental." It is now a style found more commonly in synagogues, due to the association with the Golden Age of Jewry in Moorish Spain.
The ride has a green roof made of copper and a brick façade, with its upper levels sitting precariously on a smaller middle that connects it to the base of the building.
The line starts outside the Hotel Hightower, where guests can see the windows are almost completely shattered, and winds through the gardens filled with many statues from many different countries. Signs are posted all over the front advertising the tour. Guests then enter the lobby, a very elaborate and well-decorated room filled with lush furniture and beautiful art.
Across each arch near the ceiling is a mural of Harrison Hightower III, the hotel's namesake and a rich collector on one of his adventures. If one looks closely, they will notice that he is actually escaping the native people in some way with a valuable artifact or item in his possession. At the end of the lobby are the elevator doors, left open in their destroyed state with only a single plank of wood holding them together. The broken cable is visible inside. Guests are then ushered into a room filled with many pictures of Hightower, his expeditions, and his hotel.
Guests enter one of two rooms, either his office or the library, and in each room a large stained glass window depicts a confident Hightower with Shiriki Utundu sitting on a pedestal nearby. A tour guide talks about Hightower a little, then winds up an old gramophone that plays a recording of Hightower's last interview. At this point, the lights dim. The stained glass window changes to show a now frightened Hightower holding the idol before showing him entering the elevator on that fateful night. It then shows the outside of the hotel as the elevator ascends.
Suddenly, all the lights in the hotel turn off, and there is a big blast of green lightning. In an instant, the blast drops, shattering the bottom of the glass upon impact. At this point, Shiriki Utundu comes to life, looks around, laughs mischievously at the guests, and vanishes into a star-field. A dark fog covers the window, which remains the same when the fog is lifted. Guests are then ushered into an enormous storage room where Hightower kept his treasures. There are multiple loading rooms on the second floor, each themed to a different type of item. One has swords, another has tapestries, the third has stone tablets and other valuable artifacts.
From a 2006 Press Release:
Anyone who visits American Waterfront will soon find their gaze irresistibly drawn to the unique form of the lofty Hotel Hightower. The building's unusual design and extraordinary proportions were symbols of the wealth and power of its notorious creator, antiquities collector Harrison Hightower III, and indeed the stories of the man and the hotel are inextricably linked.
After inheriting his father's mansion, Harrison Hightower III decided to renovate his home, adding gardens, a pool and spa, the five-story "Caliph's Tower", the eight-story "Indian Tower" with its many guest rooms and a ballroom, and finally the 14-story "Great Tower" in which Hightower kept his personal apartments in the penthouse suite. Although the overall style of the hotel is Gothic, to a certain extent there are elements of other architectural styles from all over the world. Also, as a further testament to his greatness, Hightower installed many artifacts he had acquired during his globe-spanning expeditions in various places around the hotel.
Harrison Hightower III was a collector of cultural antiquities. Accompanied by his valet, Mr. Smelding, he traveled to every continent to collect his curiosities, including Asia, Europe, South America and Oceania. Once he found an artifact he wanted, he would use any method available to acquire it, including on occasion outright plunder.
In 1899, Hightower embarked on the most hazardous expedition of his life, heading up the Congo River and into the dangerous parts of uncharted Africa. Though his intention was to collect the art and craftwork of the region, Hightower soon found himself the object of attacks by hostile local tribes, and many members of his team lost their lives.
Then one day, Hightower's severely reduced party was chased into the area of the dreaded Mtundu tribe. Though greatly feared by neighboring tribes, the Mtundu welcomed Harrison Hightower's ill-fated expedition quite cordially, and actually invited the adventurers to eat with them.
During the meal, Hightower learned of the existence of the tribe's protective idol. The statue was called "Shiriki Utundu" and Harrison Hightower wanted it for his own. He tried to persuade the village headman to sell him the idol, but was refused, which only served to increase his desire. He then told his men to prepare for battle, and grabbing Shiriki Utundu from its altar, stole the idol and escaped the village.
The expedition was nervous and afraid that the many warriors of the Mtundu tribe would pursue and attack them, but strangely they only stood by and watched expressionlessly as Hightower took their idol. Some thought they may even have been slightly smiling...
On December 31, 1899, Harrison Hightower III was back in New York and held a press conference in his private office at Hotel Hightower to unveil his latest "find". Manfred Strang, a reporter from the New York Globe-Telegraph, asked if Shiriki Utundu wasn't really cursed, but was then thrown out of the building. After that, Hightower was his usual bombastic self, giving a heroic description of his adventure and allowing no real questions. That evening, he gave a spectacular New Year's Eve party to celebrate his return from Africa.
Though the party was a success, Hightower left early to find a place for Shiriki Utundu in his penthouse apartment. As Hightower boarded the elevator, Mr. Smelding warned him to give proper respect to the idol. Hightower refused to pay heed, and, sneering in defiance, even put out his cigar on Shiriki Utundu's head!
As the clock struck midnight, all lights in the hotel went out and the party was plunged into darkness. People outside witnessed a dazzling green light bursting out from Harrison Hightower's rooms at the top of the hotel. From the top floors to the bottom, the benighted hotel was pierced by hundreds of thousands of volts of electricity. The arched windows in front shattered with a loud crash, causing broken glass and other debris to rain down on the onlookers below. Small fires had broken out, and panicked party guests scrambled to escape, with many injured in the rush.
However, the most astonishing thing of all was that Harrison Hightower III, who should have been in his rooms at the top of the hotel, abruptly disappeared without a trace.
With the explosion on the top floors, the cables of the hotel elevator were also cut, and Harrison Hightower III was heard screaming in fright. The only thing that was found in the remains of the shattered elevator, though, was Shiriki Utundu. Harrison Hightower was gone. Had Hightower somehow escaped from the elevator unharmed, or was he not even riding it when it crashed? Could he have been transported away somewhere? No one knows the truth.
After Mr. Hightower's mysterious disappearance the hotel was closed down. People in New York began calling it the "Tower of Terror". For 13 years, no one dared to enter the hotel until the New York City Preservation Society, led by its president and founder, Miss Beatrice Rose Endicott, began a plan to offer tours of the building to the public. The Society hopes that through its efforts people will again appreciate the architectural beauty of the hotel and the cultural value of the treasures in Harrison Hightower's collection.
Still, dark rumors persist amongst the people of New York. Some say how they saw the "strange, green lights" on that fateful night, while others recall hearing "a terrible scream". The passage of time seems only to have increased the mystery surrounding Hotel Hightower.
- Tokyo DisneySea official site - Tower of Terror (English)
- Tokyo DisneySea official site - Tower of Tower (Japanese 日本)