The Golden Glove

(Fatih Akin, Germany/France, 2019)

BY LAURA KERN | November 23, 2023

It’s been regularly cautioned that The Golden Glove isn’t for the faint of heart, and while that might be a fair assessment, such warnings may needlessly scare off potential admirers. Anyone going into a film depicting the inner workings of a real-life serial killer already knows that the subject matter will be unavoidably disturbing, but also that beyond the brutality, there can be much to relish. That is certainly the case with The Golden Glove, a stunning piece of intensely down-and-dirty cinema, with a devilish streak of humor for those comfortable enough to laugh.

The German-born filmmaker of Turkish descent Fatih Akin has over 25 years built up a rich, varied body of work, making both docs and fiction titles. Some are lighthearted, while others enter dark genre territory, like 2017’s harrowing revenge thriller In the Fade. His even more unsettling follow-up, The Golden Glove (2019), is an adaptation of Heinz Strunk’s book of the same name about the Hamburg-based sicko Fritz Honka, responsible for the murder of at least four women in the first half of the 1970s. Wasting no time, the film drops us right into hell: Honka’s grungy bed, where he’s on top of a woman. For a moment, we fear he might be raping her, until we realize he’s actually preparing to dispose of her murdered body. It almost comes as a relief. The film continually throws such curveballs, leaving viewers mentally searching for “safe” spaces—and at times, the expert framing momentarily provides that desired protection, using walls or door frames to block our line of vision from the worst of what’s taking place.

Honka’s apartment is a marvelous feat of set design, with pictures of naked women lining the walls, creepy dolls strewn about, and one of the grossest bathrooms in history. Anyone who enters this sty instantly recoils from a stench that all the pine-tree air fresheners in the world couldn’t obscure. Even if he hadn’t stashed body parts there, it probably would have smelled just as wretched. We can almost catch a whiff ourselves. Just slightly less oppressive, The Golden Glove—the local bar where Honka and fellow drunks and outcasts commune—is a pivotal setting that’s also immaculately conceived.

What’s most remarkable of all though is Jonas Dassler’s truly transformative performance as Honka. Pure beauty converted into absolute beast, Dassler is hidden behind bad-skin makeup, huge aviator glasses, a slight hunchback and mangled nose, and hair coated in months’ worth of grease. It’s an extreme makeover, but not for a moment do we doubt him in the role. To offset the excessive stink of the characters and the places they inhabit, The Golden Glove weaves in the sometimes-intersecting side story of two innocents: teenagers Petra and Willi (Greta Sophie Schmidt and Tristan Göbel). Honka is drawn to Petra’s blonde, pure youthfulness, and we fear for her safety throughout. It’s a flirtation of sorts that comes to a head in the electrifying finale—one that brings to mind the spirit of the street scenes in the opening of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), another serial-killer masterwork that didn’t initially find the appreciation it deserved. 🩸


is a writer, editor, and horror programmer based in New York. She is the editor of Bloodvine and her writing has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Film Comment, and Rolling Stone.

X: @killerkern

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