12 Disasters Of Christmas

12 Disasters Of Christmas, SyFy’s contribution to the holiday season, lands on the programming calendar like a foul-smelling, coal-like substance left on the carpet by a drunken Santa who needs a swat on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. The contemporary fashion in holiday horror movies, as seen in such classic titles as You Better Watch Out and Silent Night, Deadly Night (as well as the latest episode of American Horror Story), is for psychotic maniacs in Santa Claus suits. SyFy Original Movies are bigger on effects-driven stories involving apocalyptic prophecies and environmental havoc.

12 Disasters—directed by Steven R, Monroe, who was responsible for a theatrical remake of I Spit On Your Grave and such TV films as Ogre, Ice Twisters, and Mongolian Death Worm—finds an ingenious way to fit this template into seasonal garb. The setting is a remote mountain town that is on the verge of being environmentally raped by a local wheeler-dealer named Kane (Roark Critchlow), who is planning to drop a box store at the edge of a cliff face. Little does he know that certain doom is heading for town on the express train. No one knows, except for Donnelly Rhodes, who plays the village crackpot, Grant, who is always trying to get people to look at his thousand-year-old book of illustrated Mayan prophecies that the producer’s kid drew. A copy of everybody’s favorite long-winded, shopping-list-based Christmas carol is also pinned to Grant’s wall, because it’s actually a coded translation of a Mayan warning. Let Grant tell it, he does it best: “So you’re saying two turtledoves and 12 drummers drumming are the end of the world?” “That’s exactly right!”

Rhodes, whose face is set in an permanent expression of haggard despair, as if he hasn’t been able to move on since learning that Last Resort had been canceled, recognizes the end is night while browsing in his ancient Mayan coloring book and rushes to the home of his ex-girlfriend, who has just been fatally impaled by a “shard of ice” during what looks like a rain of stalactites. But he isn’t there to offer the family his condolences; he’s there to yell at his girlfriend’s teenage daughter, Jacey (Magda Apanowicz, from Caprica), that she’s “the chosen one,” a phrase that, on SyFy Original Movies, never means that someone has gotten lucky at Powerball. It seems that Jacey is the latest in a long, long line of descendants of the ancient Mayans who are destined to save the world, should its end turn out to be scheduled on their watch.

Grandma, sensing that her own shift might be nearing its end, had fortuitously slipped her gold ring onto Jacey’s finger, just before taking a falling stalactite to the torso, in the first but not the last of this film’s spit-out-your-orange-juice moments. The ring doesn’t come with instructions, which is why it’s handy to have Donnelly Rhodes around, along with his annotated notes on the Christmas carol of doom. While various “disasters”—some of which, like red water pouring out of the kitchen tap, are more like annoyances—are going on around them, Rhodes leads Jacey and her father on a scavenger hunt to find all five of the golden rings she’ll need to fend off the apocalypse. (When she has them, then, as General Patton said of a young solder whose best friend’s face was now a pile of goo, she’ll know what to do.) Rhodes has apparently been studying this shit all his life, but once you get into the spirit of the thing, anyone can do it. It’s Jacey’s little brother who notices that the town is ringed by 12 volcanoes and deduces that their mass eruption will be the coup de grace described in the image of “12 drummers drumming.” It’s not any dumber than the moment in The Omen when David Warner explains that the bit in the Biblical prophecy about “the Holy Roman Empire” rising “could well men the rise of the Common Market.”

“Jacey,” incidentally, is pronounced “J. C.”, and her parents are named Joseph and Mary; their town is called Calvary. I don’t know whether this little tip of the hat to Christianity is supposed to protect the movie from Christian activists who might be offended by any suggestion that the Mayans had it right; if anything, it’s more likely to piss them off, by suggesting that Christianity and the lessons of your heathen blood cults will need to lean on each other when the last seconds are ticking down. In fact, the villain, Kane, turns out to be fundamentalist Christian nut who decides that Jacey is actually “the whore of Babylon” and plans to turn her into a human sacrifice.

There’s a huge cross very visible on the wall behind him when he makes the speech that announces his descent into madness, but my favorite piece of staging in 12 Disasters is the simpler moment when Kane is being snarky about Joseph (Ed Quinn) and someone tells him, “For God’s sake, the man lost his mother this morning.” Then the camera stays fixed on Kane’s face for a few deadly extra seconds, as if the director kind of enjoyed watching the actor wish that he had a comeback prepared. From the special effects to such dialogue as “No one is sacrificing anyone!” to a memorable shot of Donnelly Rhodes, action hero, shuffling around carrying a shovel,  to Rhodes doing his imitation of Paul Ryan making the case for how his budget plan works (“I don’t have time to explain this to you! I’m not crazy!”) 12 Disasters is full of “Eh, I’m hungry, somebody’ll fix it in post-production” moments like that, and it comes closer to so-bad-it’s-good territory than any SyFy Original Movie in recent memory. Which isn’t all that close: These are factory products made on the cheap by people who wish they were working on something else, not labors of love like Plan 9 From Outer Space or The Room. But if you and couch-date partner have any knack for wisecracking at all, you’ll have to get more laughs out of it than NBC’s Go On/The New Normal comedy block.

Stray observations:

  • Joseph: "So this is like a 2012 thing?" Grant: "No, this is the 2012 thing!" Roland Emmerich's lawyers had better just back off!

More TV Club