Kino Video recently packaged some of the most important spooky silents as German Horror Classics: The set contains two old favorites, Nosferatu and Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and two more obscure films, The Golem and Waxworks. The latter alone make the set noteworthy: Waxworks for its Expressionist extravagance and Golem for its timeliness (the Jewish Golem myth is a precursor to Frankenstein, and has been in literary vogue for a few years now). But Kino has gone above and beyond with their restoration efforts; even the more familiar films benefit from rigorous archival transfers and excerpts from other early works that will likely never get DVD releases of their own.
For more contemporary scares, try David Fincher's Panic Room (Columbia / TriStar). It was a sleeper at the box office, but is unlikely to encourage a good night's sleep in the viewing public — you imagine being trapped in your home with a homicidal Dwight Yoakam and cornrow-headed Jared Leto! Just as the rest of the world was catching up to his schizoid filmmaking frenzy, Fincher turned everything inward, making psychological tension more important than flashy camera work; and though star Jodie Foster was a last-minute replacement, you'd be hard-pressed to find an actress with more going on behind her fear-widened eyes than the former Clarice Starling.
Okay, okay: I've met you people, and I know some of you snore if you can't get some gore. Try Near Dark (Anchor Bay). This low-budget late-Eighties flick is the reason people think director Kathryn Bigelow has talent, no matter how many fumbles like K19: The Widowmaker she delivers.
It's a vampire flick crossed with a Western, incorporating a "wrong side of the tracks" love story — only here, the wrong side of the tracks is the world of the undead. The script is smart, bringing a real but hilariously skewed family melodrama to the vampire gang, and Bigelow's direction is the kind of raw, violent stuff you wish all low-rent genre films could achieve. But a large dose of the fun comes from the three cast members — Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Jenette Goldstein — who had just worked together on Aliens, and had an obvious affinity for each other. When they taunt each other, you believe they've been at each other's throats for a hundred years or so. Now if only Henriksen could find more movies worthy of that scary face...