- “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 queue area winds through gardens filled with statues from many different countries up to the Hotel Hightower before guests then enter the lobby. On each ceiling arch is painted a mural of Hightower on one of his adventures, portraying his escape from native people with a valuable artifact or item in his possession. At the end of the lobby is the elevator in its destroyed state, its doors left open with only a single plank of wood holding them together. Guests are then ushered into a room filled with many photographs of Hightower, his expeditions, and his hotel.
Guests enter one Hightower's office, where a large stained glass window depicts a confident Hightower, while Shiriki Utundu sits on a pedestal nearby the stained glass. A tour guide talks about Hightower, then winds up an old gramophone that plays a recording of Hightower's last interview. The lights dim and the stained glass window changes to show a frightened Hightower holding the idol and then entering the elevator on that fateful night, then shows the outside of the hotel as the elevator ascends. All throughout, Hightower's voice is heard echoing throughout the office warning guests the curse is real and urging them to leave while they can. All the lights in the hotel go out, and a flash of green lightning shatters the bottom of the window. Shiriki Utundu comes to life, laughs mischievously at the guests, and vanishes into a star-field. A gray fog covers the window, which remains the same when the fog lifts. Guests are then ushered into an enormous storage room where Hightower kept his treasures.
As the ride begins, a flash of electricity appears on the top of the elevator doors, the lights flicker, then go out. Hightower explains what happened to him, while the elevator is pushed backwards. The glowing green eyes of the idol appear in the darkness as the elevator enters the drop shaft. The elevator begins its ascent, then stops and the doors open to reveal the private apartments of Harrison Hightower, the idol sitting on a table in the center. Hightower's ghost, appears beside it and reaches out to touch it. The idol zaps him with a bolt of green electricity, blasting him backwards past open elevator doors at the opposite end of the apartments, where Hightower falls down the shaft. The private apartments fade away, replaced by a star field. The idol turns toward the guests' elevator and laughs before the doors close.
The elevator ascends again, then the doors open, revealing a large, ornate mirror. Hightower tells the guests to wave and say "good bye" to themselves. As they do, the lighting of the hotel is replaced with an eerie green glow, which makes the reflections of the guests ghostlike, an effect similar to the California and Paris rides. The ghostly reflection of the riders disappears and leaves the idol alone in the empty elevator. The idol laughs menacingly at the riders, and suddenly shoots forward at them. The elevator vibrates, then begins the drop sequence. At the end of the drop sequence, the elevator returns to its loading level, where the idol's green eyes glare one last time in the dark and then disappear.
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.
Level 13: Shadow Of Shiriki
In 2018, the attraction had a brief makeover which ran from January 5 to March 20. While the story of the attraction remained the same, changes to the attraction included:
- After Shiriki Utundu disappears, during the pre-show, their shadow can be seen flying across the stained glass window.
- In the elevator, the total number of drops was increased from three to seven.
- During the drop, the shadow of Shiriki Utundu's shadow can be seen cutting the elevator cables.
- During the drop sequences, the passengers find themselves in a starfield void, with the face of Shiriki Utundu flying towards them.
- Tokyo DisneySea official site - Tower of Terror (English)
- Tokyo DisneySea official site - Tower of Tower (Japanese 日本)