We at Grimoire Magazine are delighted to feature the work of Chicago-based filmmaker, animator and graphic designer Kaitlin Martin. We first recognized her work in a trailer that played before all horror and midnight movies at the Chicago International Film Festival's After Dark program. She has also made music videos for the bands The Curls, Post Animal, TEEM, and The Evening Attraction, and her videos have been selected for screening at the South Texas Underground Film Festival, Ripe Leeks, Wretched Nobels, San Diego Underground Film Festival, Winnipeg Underground Film Festival, Boston Underground Festival, and the Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival.
Grimoire Magazine: First off, could you speak to your influences? What other artists, filmmakers, and icons from popular culture have made the most impact on your work, and how?
Kaitlin Martin: I grew up watching Masterpiece Mystery! and I've always been in love with the work of Edward Gorey. I love silent movies because there's a really tactile, mysterious quality to a lot of them. I like that the music is transient and changes depending on the time and place. Favorites include Vampyr, FW Murnau's Faust and Destiny (and of course Nosferatu although I think it's a little overplayed), The Phantom of the Opera, Wolf Blood... I could go on forever! I especially enjoy old French serials like Fantomas, Judex, and Les Vampires: It's great to experience these really kooky fast paced narratives in post WWI France. It's so fascinating to see the crumbling city as a backdrop to crazier and crazier conspiracies. I also love contemporary artists who draw a lot of inspiration from this time, too, like Guy Maddin and Marcel Dzama.
GM: There definitely seem to be Old Hollywood and classic horror influences in your work (especially vampire films), which we absolutely love. What is it about these films that draws you to them?
KM: I really relate to Kenneth Anger's experience of having the gossip and tragedies of Old Hollywood stars told to him growing up as a kind of morality tale. (Also I am the biggest fan of Hollywood Babylon). We had a bunch of classics on VHS and TCM constantly playing in the background growing up. I'd listen to my mom or grandparents tell stories or just say random facts about Carole Lombard dying in a plane crash on her way to see Clark Gable, or Jean Harlow's body decaying after coating her hair in too much platinum dye. They all had such distinct personas and felt almost like a Greek pantheon or patron saints of different things. They're both larger than life and flawed. You can picture Joan Crawford or Cary Grant or Marlene Dietrich and get an instant idea of what they represent.
I love horror movies but I'm so particular — I hate zombies or anything end of the world-y). Vampire movies are my absolute favorite; as opposed to other horror genres, they're usually pretty contained: vampire hunts small group of people. And they're usually the most visually interesting genre within horror. Werner Herzog's Nosferatu is my absolute favorite vampire movie (closely followed by Only Lovers Left Alive, Valerie and her Week of Wonders, and The Hunger) because it really taps into the uncanny.
GM: A lot of your work favors simple line drawings, especially in neon colors, juxtaposed against dark, atmospheric films of landscapes. The effect, as in “All Gardens are Haunted,” is both charming and eerie: half horror film, half children’s animation. There’s a definite sense of the uncanny in these, in terms of creating something that feels unsettling because it is both familiar and unfamiliar. What was your thought process behind these choices?
KM: I grew up reading a lot of gothic horror (the Brontës, Stoker, LeFanu, etc.) and one of the most important aspects is the scenery: the dark forests, crumbling ruins, creepy manors. I like to work with that kind of atmosphere in a less gothic surrounding, the city, to create a distinct vibe. Working with line drawings is a good way to keep things moving quickly and creates more symbolic images. The colors are more of an aesthetic choice: I hate how all "horror" stuff is black/white/red—it can be a little on the nose at times. I really like psychedelic art from the 60s and 70s—it could still be bizarre and creepy but use rainbow colors. And I really like pink.
GM: At Grimoire we’re big fans of spells and the occult, so we are definitely into your 12 Curses series. Can you talk to us about the appeal of curses, and how that particular project came about?
KM: I had wanted to do a series of animations for a while and I was also playing with the idea of drawing a lot of characters who live in the woods. I was drawn to the idea of calling them curses as a kind of protective feeling—the way you walk into the woods (or go on any really long walk) and you don't want anyone to follow you because you just want to be alone. I think they're protective but also sad because they're made out of anger.
GM: The sound in your films is also stellar, and greatly contributes to their atmosphere. How did you go about designing and creating the sound?
KM: Thank you! I like to record sounds when I'm out and about—most of those tracks are distorted from walks, bonfires, and nature. I love making music videos so I want to incorporate music more in the future, but I haven't found the right project yet.
GM: What future projects are you working on right now?
KM: So much! Right after I finish releasing 12 Curses I have a kind of e-zine (?) I'm releasing through Instagram called "Ghosts Who Know People I Know" where I illustrate my friends and family's paranormal experiences. Hopefully I'll be able to make printed versions too. I'm also working on a script for a feature-length animation—I want it to be like a psychedelic, lost silent film that's rediscovered in the 70s and has a wild run at grimy art house theaters, then is lost again and rediscovered today. It's a lot, so that would be waaaay down the line haha. And of course I'll keep churning out short animations as I think of them.
GM: As a fellow Chicagoan, what is your opinion of the recent spate of Mothman/bat creature sightings in Chicago?
KM: Partially I love it—I'd love to see Mothman; I used to always watch for UFOs as a kid and Mothman is even cooler, but according to legend, isn't Mothman a bad omen? Hopefully he's friendly!
GM: What do you think is the most haunted site in Chicago, and why?
KM: I had the creepiest experience in this old house in Logan Square years ago. There was all this green tile and pre-furnished rooms with metal beds and it all smelled like incense. Apparently the landlord went around at night and blessed all the doors with holy water. I'm not sure if the house is still there/the same since all those new buildings are going up, but that's the first place that's truly given me the creeps.
Kaitlin Martin is a Chicago-based filmmaker, animator, and illustrator. Her work deals with the act of haunting, nature, and the imagery and tropes of gothic fiction. She has a music video upcoming this fall for art rock sextet The Curls. Her work can be found on her website coolcatkmart.com and on Instagram @coolcatkmart.