Remembering Krzysztof Penderecki and the Horror Movies That Featured his Music

While sadly not a household name among most casual fans, the music of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki is as iconic as it is brilliant.

The world has truly lost a musical legend, however we can take solace in knowing he made it to 86 years old, something we all hope for.

So to honor the late, great Penderecki, we thought it would be fitting to list 5 iconic (mostly horror) movies, where his music was used. Before reading this, you probably didn’t know his name, but you definitely know these films!

The Exorcist
Elements of Penderecki’s “String Quartet” (1960) are woven throughout the few surreal nightmare scenes in William Friedkin’s horror masterpiece.

Ever since Psycho, we’ve seen just how effective strings are at conveying suspense and terror, particularly when utilizing the minor notes.

His “Cello Concerto” also provides a chilling opening as Father Merrin stares down the statue of Pazuzu in Iraq, knowing that he will do battle with this demon one more time.

The Shining
His unsettlingly creepy theme “Polymorphia” is used frequent in this Kubrick classic, as we see Jack Torrance slowly descend into madness.

Penderecki’s theme really helps to set the eerie tone for the Overlook Hotel, and remind us that we are not in a safe place.

Another theme of his “De Natura Soronis” was used as Wendy frantically runs around the hotel after locking up Jack, realizing just how desperate their plight truly is.

Some of his music was even recycled during The Shining scene of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. “De Natura Soronis” was even used in Twister!

Heavy Metal
While technically not a horror film, Heavy Metal’s united many fanbases with this blend of brilliant visuals and awesome music.

Music which included Penderecki’s “Passachaglia”. It added a dose of instrumental classiness to this absurdly creative acid-trip of a movie!

People Under the Stairs
Penderecki’s haunting and tragic “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” helped convey the disturbing terror the hid within the walls of the house in People Under the Stairs.

The rest of the film wasn’t too big on classical string music, but using so sparingly made it all the more effective. The same piece also popped up in Children of Men and the 2017 reboot of Twin Peaks.

Shutter Island
Pieces such as “Passacaglia Allegro Moderato” and “Fluorescences” created the vintage aesthetic for Scorsese’s mystery thriller, as well as helped set the overall tone.

Penderecki’s music was often used in connection with a character going down a rabbit hole into uncertainty and insanity, which this film is very much about.

He may be gone, but Krzysztof Penderecki will always be immortalized by his music, and the films that featured his work.

In many ways, this is the beauty of art, in that it outlasts and survives the artist for generations to come.

RIP Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020), you will be missed…

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