Dallas filmmaker Bradley Steele Harding has a unique hobby even for most album crate raiders. He collects vintage horror story albums.
"Over a decade ago, I discovered a music blog back when people were uploading music, and it was some guy who collected scary story records from the '60s or '70s," Harding says. "I kind of became obsessed with it."
His collection include spooky spoken word albums like Tales of the Frightened
narrated by horror movie legend Boris Karloff and Seduction Through Witchcraft
, a somewhat more informative album about spells that can help your love life voiced by self proclaimed witch Louise Huebner. Steele says he saw the power these kinds of storytelling records could conjure in listeners' minds, and it inspired him to write a movie treatment about a vintage horror record that begins to play out in the life of one of its listeners.
"From the '50s through the mid-'80s when vinyl was still a viable thing especially for kids, there were spoken word albums by famous people and sometimes not so famous people," Harding says. "Some of them were horror themed voiced by people like Vincent Price and Boris Karloff, and they would read short stories. Some were more elaborate like radio plays. Some were just audio stories that kids would listen to on vinyl or adults would play at Halloween parties."
That treatment is a decade old and this Saturday at the Texas Frightmare Weekend
, he'll screen the final cut of the movie based on it called 13 Tracks to Frighten Agatha Black
Agatha, played by Bridie Marie Corbett, listens to a terrifying tale from The Tall Figure, played by Spencer McAfee, in the locally produced horror film 13 Tracks to Frighten Agatha Black.
Lampkin Lane Productions
Harding's horror film stars actress Bridie Marie Corbett as the title character who finds a spooky story album in her attic. As she plays it, the grisly and scary stories on the record start to play out around her and reveal some harsh and violent secrets about her community and life.
"From the moment I read the script, I was in love with it," Corbett says. "Bradley created something amazing, and I was really honored to be able to carry the title role."
Harding's horror project is unique because the soundtrack and narration are a big driver of the action and scenes in the movie. Harding says before they even started filming, he knew he would have to make a spooky story album first that could weave itself around Agatha's circumstances and story. That would require more than just some solid ghost stories and actors who could carry its narratives.
"In some movies, when you're not sure whether or not the protagonist is going crazy, we can hear their thoughts and so we're the protagonist," Harding says. "13 Tracks
is that kind of film except we're not in the protagonist's head. These records that she's familiar with from her childhood start to parallel life around her. They start talking to her and informing her life around her. They give her information on crimes that happen around the neighborhood and could come back to haunt her or impact her life."
Such a movie would also require some great music that could support the spoken word stories and drive the action of the film. Harding says he knew his movie concept had some real potential to become a living, breathing film when he met his future composer Andrew Jones, who wrote and performed the music with a group of musicians who watched the movie and listened to the stories in real time.
"I knew the music he would write would be incredible," Harding says. "When I met him, I knew I'd be able to make the film."
Composer Andrew Jones (left), writer and director Bradley Steele Harding (middle) and actress Angie Bolling (right) record a spooky, spoken word story for the film 13 Tracks to Frighten Agatha Black, which premieres Saturday at Texas Frightmare Weekend.
Lampkin Lane Productions
Filming started in 2019 with plans to submit and release the film to festivals the following year but the pandemic shut down public events, and Harding says he didn't want to just release his final cut of 13 Tracks to Frighten Agatha Black
on direct to streaming or video platforms. He wanted an actual audience in a dark theater to experience the madness that unfolds in Agatha's eyes and ears. So he took the extra time to dedicate to a deeper production schedule and process, which he just finished a month and a half ago with his final cut.
"We were a little bit behind going into 2020," Harding says. "We lost an editor, and so I ended up editing the film myself. There are long stories about where this film landed but ultimately. ... The good news is if this film had come out when it was supposed to, it wouldn't have anywhere to go because the pandemic compromised film festivals and I didn't want it to go directly to streaming. I wanted it to have some theatrical screenings."
Harding and Jones also took the opportunity to build some interest in the movie in a clever way by releasing some of the spooky story vinyl tracks as its own album. They created an EP called 13 Tracks to Frighten Your Friends!
based on one of the fictional albums Agatha listens to in the movie and released it on Bandcamp where it got a noticeable amount of coverage and interest.
"It was a way to keep the momentum going, and we wanted to see if we could raise some extra funds," Harding says. "We're going to release an actual vinyl album that will truly represent everything in the film."
As the tracks play out in Agatha's presence in some horrifying ways involving themes like murder, possession and ritual sacrifice, she movies through them without a lot of lines. Some scenes are filmed in one long take with almost no dialogue except for the spooky stories being read over them by actors including Angie Bolling and Udo Kier.
"I really didn't have as many many lines as a person might think they would have in a 90-minute feature film playing the lead role, but that brought new challenges because I didn't have dialogue to work with," Corbett says. "So where it was less challenging in terms of line load, there was more of a challenge at times because there were no lines, if that makes sense."
The plot also goes much deeper than the bizarre tale of a horror album that can bend and shape time and space. All of this madness happens during a time of great loss in Agatha's life that also begin to manifest in the album's creepy stories.
"Her story is one of a woman that has been stuck in a dark place for most of her life and is given an opportunity to get out of that place," Corbett says. "I think people can relate to circumstances where they have to make big decisions that can change their lives and that is attention grabbing to me. I'm not sure most people would take the same path she does however."
Harding says Corbett's performance carries the movie efficiently and emotionally without speaking a word.
"She's in pretty much ever scene," Harding says. "She's a movie star, and I really lucked out. It's a low-budget movie, and there are a hundred direct to video things released on streaming every week, and I really think we're able to achieve that cinematic look and a lot of that had to do with our star."
The film's premiere on Saturday is also a testament to the hard work and patience he and his crew put into it.
"I'm very proud of it," Harding says. "A lot of local talent came together and rallied who I contacted who also liked the script and were excited about the project."