Horror Shorts Reviews: “Heartless” Tackles Work-Related Mayhem; A Predator Meets a Fitting Fate in “A/S/L”

Heartless is a giddily gruesome updating of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Playing off the short story’s psychological horror, writer/director Kevin Sluder’s terrific short also tackles office politics, as well as sexual politics in the workplace.

Shelby (Stacy Snyder) has her hands full on the particular work day shown in Heartless, having to deliver a presentation by herself to a trio of chauvinistic male executives. The solo work is all her fault, though, because she savagely killed her supervisor Clare (Joanna Sotomura) in a frustrated rage the night before. How is it, then, that Clare sabotages Shelby’s chance to shine?

Snyder shines, infusing her increasingly power-hungry yet vulnerable and certainly unhinged Shelby with superb nuances, such as subtle shifts in facial expressions, one example being the chilling moment when Shelby realizes what she has done when suddenly injuring Clare, and accepts the situation with escalated maniacal glee. The rest of the cast is great, too.

Sluder has crafted this Poe retelling with grisly set pieces, wicked attack sequences, and some darkly comic moments. Though the basis for Heartless is a well-known story, this version of it feels fresh and holds plenty of unpredictable jolts.

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Writer/director Benjamin Swicker’s A/S/L (short for age, sex, and location) finds family man Doug (Brendan Boogie in an effectively understated creepy performance) searching for online chatting with underage girls. When a nearby 13-year-old invites him over while her parents are away for the weekend, he quickly drives to her home. It’s hinted at from the outset that this is a morality tale, with the real-life monster bound to meet his comeuppance. Without giving too much more of the plot away, suffice it to say that Swicker and company deliver a startling, gory, and altogether satisfying climax.

A/S/L has the vibe of a modern-day updating of a morality tale from the classic EC comics such as The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear, which should be taken as a high recommendation. Watching an online predator at work is unsettling territory, right off the bat, but Swicker steers things with an increasingly eerie vibe. His cast is solid, with the young actresses playing their roles with aplomb, and scream queen Tristan Risk (Ayla, For a Good Time, Call . . . ) turning in a memorable cameo. Special effects crew Black Cat Burlesque FX and additional makeup artist Carla Bazano deserve special mention for their amazing practical effects work, which is sure to please fans who like their creature features with plenty of gooeyness.

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Both Heartless and A/S/L have just begun their film festival runs, and are absolutely ones to watch for when they play a fest near you. For more information including upcoming screenings, visit the Facebook page's for Heartless and A/S/L.