Martin Scorsese’s Favourite British Horror Films

Martin Scorsese interview

When the pandemic brought the world to a standstill, director Edgar Wright embarked on a mission to boost his film knowledge. Being the connected man that he is, he reached out to renowned cineaste and filmmaker Martin Scorsese and asked him to name some of his favourite British films. The legendary director behind classics such as Goodfellas and Taxi Driver responded by sending a list of 50 titles that informed Wright’s lockdown viewing. 

These days, Scorsese typically makes headlines for his negative comments about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here we have a master of his craft, in the twilight years of his career, and most of the online discourse revolves around his criticisms of superhero films. A shame really, as Scorsese’s knowledge of cinema history is arguably more impressive than his esteemed filmography. He’s always used his profile to highlight the art that inspires him, and we should thank Wright for inspiring Scorsese to celebrate the British cinema he loves.

For example, did you know Scorsese is a fan of British horror films, many of which are unsung gems? The list he shared with Wright includes several spooky chillers that are worthy of reappraisal, including several films by genre-hopping workman director Terence Fisher — Stolen Face, Four Sided Triangle, and The Devil Rides Out are the filmmaker’s horror entries on the list. His admiration for Fisher’s output doesn’t end there either, as he discussed his fondness for The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula in an interview from 1987.

However, the list he sent to Wright unearths a host of filmmakers and their work. John Gilling is also well represented, with The Flesh and the Fiends and Plague of the Zombies making up his spookier contributions. Scorsese appears to be a fan of Seth Holt too, as The Nanny and Taste of Fear both are present and accounted for, as are some of his non-horror features.

Amicus legend Roy Ward Baker receives a couple of shoutouts from Scorsese too, albeit for a pair of Hammer classics in the form of Quatermass and the Pit and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. Other standouts include Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, Jonathan Miller’s Whistle and I’ll Come for You, Peter Newbrook’s The Asphyx, Basil Dearden’s The Mind Benders, José Ramón Larraz’s Vampyres, Joseph Losey’s These Are the Damned, Sidney Hayers’ Night of the Eagle, John Hough’s The Legend of Hell House, and Kristoffer Nyholm’s The Enfield Haunting drama series.

In 2015, the Raging Bull director shared 11 of his favourite British horror films with the Daily Beast, which goes into more detail about his love for the chosen cuts. Scorsese called The Innocents one of the only films to do justice to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw novel. What’s more, he described the Gothic chiller as “beautifully crafted and acted, immaculately shot (by Freddie Francis), and very scary.”

In the documentary A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, the Goodfellas filmmaker names Jacques Tourneur as an influence on his own work, especially Cat People and the other films he made with RKO Pictures. However, his admiration for Tourneur’s oeuvre extends to his British efforts as well. Night of the Demon, which tells the story of a professor who gets on the wrong side of a creature-summoning occultist, is one of Scorsese’s all-time favourite British horror films. Scorsese has praised the psychological horror for its nightmarish qualities, writing, “Forget the demon itself — again, it’s what you don’t see that’s so powerful.”

Finally, Martin Scorsese is a fan of Ealing Studio’s classic Dead of Night, the 1945 anthology film that inspired Amicus Productions’ golden age of portmanteau features. Scorsese enjoys the film’s playful qualities and its ability to get under the skin. He described each segment as “disquieting” before “erupting into a crescendo of madness” when they come together during the climax.