The Tower of Terror VS The Haunted Mansion
As the Halloween season descends upon us, we are confronted by a myriad of debates. Is it better to go out trick-or-treating or to stay at home and hand out the candy? Do you go for the chocolate candy bars or the fruity chewy yummies? These conundrums are difficult enough, but Disney fans have another one that they contend with: the Haunted Mansion or the Tower of Terror? Which attraction does a better job of putting the ‘howl’ in Halloween? In our new Special Halloween Podcast Episode, we gather around the séance table to decide once and for all which attraction gives you the biggest thrills and the most chilling chills – which one boasts the creepiest creeps and the most ghoulish ghouls.
But although the two attractions have many differences, they do have quite a bit in common as well. Like what, you may ask? Well, besides both of them being frightening in their own special way, they both have incredibly detailed backstories. While it is true that the stories differ in their origination (the Tower of Terror’s narrative was meticulously planned from the very beginning, while the Haunted Mansion’s story has grown and evolved over the years…we discuss this in great length on our podcast!), their rich backstories do lead to our first entry…
They Both Have Myths Told About Them
As you wind through the queue of the Tower of Terror, you are greeted by a black and white image of Rod Serling on an old TV, who informs you that “Tonight’s story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a maintenance service elevator still in operation, waiting for you. We invite you, if you dare, to step aboard because, in tonight’s episode, you are the star. And this elevator travels directly to…The Twilight Zone.”
Seeing as Rod Serling passed away in 1975 (nearly 20 years before the Tower of Terror opened), he clearly did not record the introduction. You may even know that the voice-over was actually recorded by the extremely talented Mark Silverman. And this is where our myth comes in.
The story goes that while Mark Silverman did record the bulk of the introduction, the line “This, as you may recognize…” was actually spoken by Rod Serling in the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” in which Serling says, “This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States.” The legend goes that Imagineers used the first part of this quote and replaced the rest with a new segment recorded by Silverman. It sounds like a fun fact, but alas, it isn’t true. We’re not sure where this story got started, but we have it on good authority that this isn’t true. What authority you may ask? Why, none other than Mark Silverman himself, who let is know that he did in fact record the whole narration and that is indeed his voice you hear throughout the entire monologue. He also clued us in to another bit of misinformation that’s been circulating out on the internet. In the same segment, some folks contend that Disney had digitally removed a cigarette that Serling was smoking in the original Twilight Zone clip. That’s not true either (you can go back and watch the original episode to see that Rod did not have a cigarette in his hand in that scene). So hopefully we’ve laid to rest TWO myths about the Tower of Terror. Many many thanks to Mark Silverman for reaching out and helping us set the record straight!
Now, what about the Haunted Mansion? There are many, many myths associated with the classic Magic Kingdom attraction (enough for a whole column on their own!), but one of our favorites has to do with the exterior architecture. If you look carefully, you’ll see recreations of various chess pieces scattered across the roof. Every piece, that is, except the horse. Why? Well, that piece is the Knight, and since it’s always “night” inside the mansion, it was left off. It’s a cute story, but it’s not true…any resemblance between the ornamentations on the roof and a set of chess pieces is pure happenstance.
Oh, and let’s not forget the popular legend that Walt Disney’s face can be seen on one of the singing busts in the graveyard, specifically the one that has fallen over. While that singing specter does bear a passing resemblance to Walt, that’s actually Thurl Ravenscroft.
They Both Have Stories That Sounds Like Myths…But Are Actually True
One of our favorite stories about the Tower of Terror has to do with the backstory, which states that the Tower was struck by lightning on that fateful night in 1939. It turns out that, during construction, the Tower actually WAS struck by lightning in an eerie coincidence! (Some contend that this is also a myth, but there are many videos of the Tower being struck over the years – not surprising since, being 199 feet tall, the Tower has a lightning rod installed on the top. That’s close enough for us!)
One of the early myths of the Haunted Mansion had to do with the Bride’s Ring you could once find at the exit. This originally WAS a myth…the ring in question was simply the remnants of a post that had been removed. But the story became so persistent that when the new interactive queue was added, an actual ring was embedded into the ground by the Imagineers! Seek it out at your peril…
They Both Share a Fun Secret…While You Wait
The Tower of Terror and the Haunted Mansion are both incredibly popular attractions. To this day, the Tower of Terror remains one of the most popular attractions in Hollywood Studios. But every once in a while, the stars will align, and you’ll find there isn’t much of a wait at all. (Oh, how we love those times!). In a bit of Imagineering whimsy, the Wait Time signs for both attractions will post an ominous stand-by time of 13 minutes.
They Both Have Incredibly Immersive Queues
The Haunted Mansion was one of the first Walt Disney World attractions to be updated with an interactive queue, and it remains one of the most delightfully immersive queues in the Magic Kingdom. You can solve the Dread family murder mystery by examining the five busts as you enter, or play your own virtual instruments at the Ravenscroft organ. The legendary tombstones continue to creep out the unwary Guest, especially when they happen upon the gravestone of Madame Leota (it’s fun to watch the expressions on the faces of first-timers who don’t know those eyes are about to blink!). The post-show queue, if you want to call it that, also has its fair share of surprises, from the punning names on the mausoleum to the statue of Mr. Toad in the back of the Pet Cemetery.
Fans of the Twilight Zone are treated to a treasure trove of Easter eggs in the queue of the Tower of Terror, each paying homage to a classic episode. Some favorites include:
A pair of round-rim glasses found on a stack of books in the library that’s a reference to the episode “Time Enough at Last,” which tells the story of Henry Bemis, a man who never had time to read – until an apocalyptic event wipes out all life on Earth.
Also in the library, a book lying face up behind a table has some strange writing on it. This is an alien alphabet, and when translated, it reads “To Serve Man,” a reference to the episode of the same name.
They Both Have Some of the Best Music in Walt Disney World
Both attractions offer some of the best background music of any Walt Disney World attraction, though they are from very different sources. In keeping with the 1930s setting of the Hollywood Hotel, the soundtrack for the Tower of Terror is a one-hour loop of carefully selected songs from the jazz era. Selections include “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington, “Sleepy Time Gal” by Glenn Miller, “Jitterbug’s Lullaby” by Johnny Hodges, and “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn.
In contrast, the music at the Haunted Mansion is comprised of variations of an original song specifically written for the attraction, “Grim Grinning Ghosts” by Buddy Baker and X Atencio. You can hear this song played in wildly different ways as you make your way through the mansion, from the ominous, out-of-tune organ in the ballroom to the (relatively) upbeat version heard in the graveyard.
They Both Have Had Movies Made About Them
The Haunted Mansion has inspired several movies, most notably the Eddie Murphy version released in 2003 and the new film released this year starring LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, and Owen Wilson.
But did you know there was a Tower of Terror movie? Tower of Terror was broadcast on October 26, 1997, as a presentation of The Wonderful World of Disney. The film was notable for being Disney’s first to be based on an attraction and, to date, the only one produced for television. The film starred Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst. Unfortunately, if you would like to see it, you’ll need to do some sleuthing; it isn’t currently available on any streaming service.
Will there be a new Tower of Terror movie? Several years ago, it came out that a new film was indeed in the works and that it would star Scarlett Johansson. Because of the (since resolved) lawsuit between Scarlett and Disney over the Black Widow movie, the fate of the Tower of Terror movie seemed to be in peril. Thankfully, though, it appears that the film is once again on track. In a recent interview, Johansson said that “…things are moving forward” as she happily revealed that, despite the recent lawsuit and the subsequent settlement, she’s as obsessed as ever with all things Disney!