› Cheryl@sfbg.com 
Rampaging genitalia, families of half-wits, towns shielding deadly secrets, and the end of the world yep, there are good times to be had with the selection of new films in Dead Channels: The San Francisco Festival of Fantastic Film. The most buzzed-about title, Uwe Boll's Postal (it's a war-on-terror comedy that pokes fun at Sept. 11, among other topics; Seinfeld's Soup Nazi plays fun guy Osama bin Laden), wasn't available for prescreening. But no matter it'll be far more rewarding to see the thing on the Castro Theatre's giant screen, with the notorious Boll in person, at Dead Channels' opening night Aug. 9.
Noteworthy picks include Canadian filmmaker Maurice Devereaux's End of the Line, which offers more jolts per capita than much of Dead Channels' other fare. A sinister dude on the subway is something just about every woman has encountered but it only gets worse for a psych-ward nurse (Ilona Elkin) whose commute home coincides with an evangelical cult's realization that the apocalypse is nigh. Piety has seldom been so gruesomely rendered. A more lighthearted look at the end of civilization is crystallized in Minoru Kawasaki's The World Sinks except Japan, in which freaky natural events cause all the continents to sink into the ocean, save you-know-which island nation. World leaders and American movie stars swarm Japan, which is none too thrilled about playing host to so many refugees. The film is a tad overlong, but there are some juicy moments of satire, including a glimpse at a beleaguered Japan's most popular television show which basically involves a giant monster stomping on as many foreigners as possible.
More somber is Simon Rumley's The Living and the Dead, which features a mentally challenged lead character (played with precious little showboating by Leo Bill) whose descent into madness is witnessed with horror by his bedridden mother (Kate Fahy). The location is a massive English manor house, as frightening and confusing a spot as End of the Line's subway tunnels. Some creative camera work, including the use of fast-motion footage to demonstrate what goin' cuckoo feels like, makes for a more dynamic thriller than the film's small cast and single setting would suggest.
The most conventional (not always a euphemism for "sucky") Dead Channels flick I watched was Harry Basil's Fingerprints, dubiously notable for the presence of Laguna Beach hottie and US Weekly fixture Kristin Cavallari in a supporting part. (Hey, rolling your eyes expressively is totally what acting is all about!) Somber teenager Melanie (Leah Pipes) gets out of rehab and moves back in with her varyingly supportive family, who've relocated to a bucolic village still haunted by a long-ago train wreck that killed several schoolchildren. Possibly owing to her heroin-tastic past, Melanie proves supernaturally sensitive; after receiving some ghostly nudges, she sets about uncovering the town's long-buried secrets. Fingerprints plays a little like a Lifetime movie with slasher elements, and it also employs the spooky-kid motif that was all the rage in scary movies a few years back. But besides the curiosity casting of Cavallari unnecessary bubble-bath scene alert! and Lou Diamond Phillips (as a sympathetic teacher), the film is actually pretty entertaining and solid, if inevitably derivative.
Fairly unlike any film you have ever seen before, or will after, is Hot Baby!, the seriously bizarre brainchild of Bay Area filmmaker Jeff Roenning. There's a scene or two that recalls The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other don't-get-off-the-highway chillers, but mostly it's an over-the-top array of shifting tones and character arcs, with a high schooler (Adam Scarimbolo) curious about his long-absent mother at its center. Plus: sexual-predator hypnotists, vengeful hookers, and doughnut jokes! Maybe even weirder is The Secret Life of Sarah Sheldon, writer-director-star Annette Ashlie Slomka's take on a female mad scientist who conducts her sexually charged experiments with Herbert West<\d>like focus. The film's interesting premise is hampered by its amateurish execution, but it still features a rather horrifying penis monster and what more can you really ask for?<\!s>*
Click here for reviews of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Welcome Home Brother Charles
Aug. 9 - 16
See Film List  for venues and showtimes