(Original title: DER GOLDENE HANDSHUH)

Hamburg, 1970.

A middle-aged prostitute lies lifeless on an unkempt bed. A man enters the bedroom in T-shirt and underpants. That man is Fritz (Jonas Dassler). Fritz drags the woman downstairs and into his living room where he lies her down onto a large sheet of blue plastic and strips her naked. He searches his untidy room for a saw; once found he prepares himself for the bloody task of dismembering the corpse. Steadying himself with the occasional swig from a bottle of spirits, Fritz enters into the act of decapitation.

The body parts are dumped locally later that night, and discovered soon after. As newspaper headlines tell us, certain limbs are still missing. We also learn that the woman was last seen in notorious pick-up boozer The Golden Glove, situated in Hamburg's red light district. Alas, no-one is apprehended for the murder.

Fast-forward to four years later, and Fritz continues to be a regular drinker in The Golden Glove. It's a depressing establishment, replete with sorry drunken characters propping up the bar, desperately lonely middle-aged women sat at every table and filth scattered all over the floors. Fritz fits right in.

His style is to get barman Anus (Simon Goerts, lumbered with a nickname that goes over his character's head) to take drinks over to the most forlorn-looking ladies in the hope that it'll bag him a shag for the evening. On this particular night, his method works on penniless Gerda (Margarete Tiesel). You can almost imagine the butcher meeting his girlfriend the same way, were Gaspar Noe to flesh out the story behind I STAND ALONE.

A broken woman whose face shows a lifetime of hardship in every craggy line, Gerda is struck by Fritz's apparent act of kindness and easily persuaded back to his apartment. Once there, she's not even put-off by the fact that his living room wall is covered in magazine cuttings of naked women, or the fact that the place fucking stinks - something Fritz blames on the Greek family living beneath him, and their constant cooking.

It quickly transpires that Fritz is an alcoholic which inevitably sometimes affects his ability to perform between the sheets. This is something he compensates for with violence, wanting to dominate his conquests. He forces himself onto them, and in Gerda's case becomes quite brutal towards her when sex fails. He then dismisses her, telling her he's going out for a short while and she'd best be gone when he returns.

Instead, she casually helps herself to a drink and sets about tidying and cleaning his shithole of an apartment. When Fritz gets back he's initially furious that she's still there, but upon realising she's spruced his place up - and upon establishing that she can cook - he sees a couple of good reasons to keep her around.

But Gerda's life with Fritz is a miserable one; he uses her to tend to his every need and verbally abuses her at every turn. In public she's forced to walk several steps behind the ambling, hunched Fritz. He gets her to call him "boss", and even sign a contract agreeing to bring her 30-year-old daughter to him for sexual purposes.

Of course, things are destined to blow up between these two before too long. And sure enough, it all goes tits up when Fritz loses his temper with Gerda while they're drinking in The Golden Glove. The shit hits the fan when Gerda admits she has no contact with her daughter anymore. She manages to escape with a charity collector while an enraged Fritz is busy in the bathroom tending to a self-inflicted cut on his hand (that's what you get if you crush a glass in your hand, silly sausage). This leads to him looking elsewhere for his evening's fun, and more violence ensues ...

Not wishing to give much more away, THE GOLDEN GLOVE continues to follow drink-dependant bully Fritz's exploits through conversations with his equally weird brother, more trysts with lost women and a road accident which temporarily alters his outlook on life - inspiring him to enter a period of sobriety and embark on a new career as a security guard.

But this leads to him becoming infatuated with beleaguered colleague Helga (Katja Studt). Inevitably this will result in the resurfacing of dangerous old habits ...

THE GOLDEN GLOVE comes from acclaimed writer-director Fatih Akin (IN THE FADE, THE EDGE OF HEAVEN etc), who adapted his screenplay from Heinz Strunk's novel of the same name. It's based on the real-life case of Fritz Honka. Honka killed four prostitutes during the 1970s, hacking their corpses to pieces in his cesspool apartment and disposing of their parts nearby. Each of his victims were said to have been picked up at his local pub, The Golden Glove.

The tone of Akin's film is at first a little difficult to warm into. Fritz is immediately portrayed as a character with no redeeming features; at no point are we invited to share his perspective on any matter, nor empathise with his daily struggle. He's socially awkward, a slave to alcohol, and quite unsightly to behold. But we never sympathise with him at any juncture because his personality is so utterly despicable. His only "friends" are the other barflies in the Glove, and they all come across as sexist drunken losers too.

There's precious little insight into Fritz's background or his thought process behind being so violent towards the opposite sex. A need for dominance is hinted at, and we get little bits of information here and there - his father was a concentration camp survivor, his brother Siggi (Marc Hosemann) hints at Fritz's troubled upbringing and a disregard for women's rights that runs through the family. But there's nothing here that could be described as illuminating, and certainly nothing to lend us a deeper understanding of Fritz's psyche.

But, as the film rages on picking out key incidents over a five-year period, it becomes increasingly apparent that this lack of insight is a very deliberate move on Akin's part. He films from an amoral stance, simply presenting events in a matter-of-fact manner which is as unflinching as it is jarringly realistic. By the end, this "snapshot" style of storytelling, akin to Michael Haneke's approach in something like THE PIANO TEACHER, emerges as one of the film's finest assets.

Dassler, something of a pin-up TV star in Germany, is extraordinary in the lead role. Sweaty, greasy, ugly ... his physical transformation was assisted by several hours in the make-up chair, admittedly, but he truly inhabits his nauseating character far beyond that. The way he skulks around, spits out hateful bile to the women in his life and generally drinks through existence with all the finesse of a weasel, is compelling. Support performances are universally strong, especially from the aforementioned Tiesel and Strudt. What's remarkable is how authentic everyone seems in their given roles. Even the peripheral characters in the bar are given characters of their own. Furthermore, the bar itself is a character to be reckoned with - quickly established as the type of place where a man could sit slumped at the bar for two days before anyone noticed he was dead.

There's a highly impressive attention to detail here too, with the period being perfectly evoked by art director Seth Turner and costume designer Katrin Aschendorf. Interiors are cold and drab, with grime being found almost everywhere. The bleakness of tone and squalid aesthetic style may well inspire viewers to hastily jump in the shower upon completion of the film.

The use of German pop songs from the era is a nice touch, often used in juxtaposition to the film's more violent sequences. These moments evidence a sly underlying sense of humour which also pokes through in some of the barbed pub banter; a set-piece where a character who's been punched in the mouth and evicted from Fritz's apartment returns moments later to reclaim their false teeth from the living room floor; and the scene in which one battered lady gets temporary revenge on Fritz by smearing his cock with mustard.

A sub-plot involving Fritz's infatuation with blonde student Petra (Greta Sophie Schmidt) reveals a fantasist side to his personality, while threatening to go somewhere nasty. It comes to a head in a most unexpected way.

THE GOLDEN GLOVE is also a very violent film. Not so much explicitly (the most powerful moments stem from what Akin DOESN'T allow his audience to see - the camera is often positioned at such an angle that we get the idea of what's happening, but not the grisly detail), but tonally. From beginning to end, the threat of violence is constantly in the air. We sense from the off that Fritz is a ticking time-bomb just waiting to explode again. When he does, his killings are cold, prolonged and agonising. There's certainly no attempt at glamorising murder here: far from being an evil genius a la Hannibal Lecter, Fritz is a bumbling pisshead whose quarries meet messy ends mainly due to his ineptitude. Take the opening scene for example, where Fritz bags up his first dead prostitute and struggles to drag her downstairs. At one point the Greek family's daughter walks into the hallway. Fritz panics, glares at her and then hisses her away like you would a feral cat. In just a few seconds, we witness him as being awkward, weak, clumsy, frightened, dumfounded, infuriated and intimidating. It all feels uncomfortably real. In this respect, there were certainly echoes of Gerard Kargl's exemplary ANGST for me.

Intelligent editing and jarring sound design further conspire to make the murder scenes harrowing. There's a scene where Fritz smashes three bottles into the face of a dying woman, trying to make her expire sooner rather than later when strangulation hasn't quite finished the job. Although we don't see the impact, his ferociously determined expression and the hideous smashing sound of each bottle is enough to make this episode terrifying.

I'll also make mention of Rainer Klausmann's cinematography which, considering the interiors are often so (intentionally) revolting, is paradoxically beautiful.

But, for all the sterling efforts of its cast and crew, this is Akin and Dassler's film. Critics have been lukewarm towards it during festival screenings but I daresay a healthy cult following awaits. The director and his leading man can hold their heads up high in the knowledge that they've crafted one of the finest horror films based on a real-life killer.

THE GOLDEN GLOVE makes its blu-ray debut on this region 2-encoded German disc from Warner Bros.

The film is presented fully uncut (109 minutes and 58 seconds) and in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in a 16x9 format. The MPEG4-AVC file is presented in full 1080p HD and offers a fantastic picture playback, handling the dour interiors and deep blacks supremely well. For such a bleak drama there's a surprising amount of colour peppered throughout it, and this transfer brings it all out vividly. With natural flesh tones, smooth motions and a keen sense of filmic depth, this sharp, clear presentation leaves its viewer with nothing to grumble about.

German audio comes in rousing 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD German audio mixes, both of which make fine use of the film's wonderful score and inventive sound design. Optional subtitles are proffered in English, and German for the hearing-impaired. The English subtitles are really well-written, error-free and easily readable at all times. There's also an audio description track available for the partially-sighted, albeit this is in German only.

The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, a pop-up scene selection menu gives access to the film by way of 12 chapters.

Bonus features are limited but worthy of a look.

These kick off with a 3-minute look at the making of the film. This includes interviews with Akin and Dassler, plus some interesting behind-the-scenes footage. Seeing Dassler being interviewed really hammers home how much of a transformation his performance is - not just in terms of appearance (footage of the prosthetic make-up being applied can be seen here) but in terms of nuances, posture etc.

Next is a 5-minute featurette entitled "Realitat und Fiktion". This finds the director and various cast members speaking talking-head style about the crimes that inspired the film, and how they strived to remain accurate to the truth.

Finally, there's the film's original trailer - all 32 seconds of it.

Crucially, it should be noted that all extras are in German and are not equipped with English (or any) subtitles.

THE GOLDEN GLOVE catapults itself straight into the top tier of horror films based on real-life murderers, ranking just below SNOWTOWN, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and the aforementioned ANGST. It's a film of fine detail, superb acting and setting, and of considerable power; every cigarette can be smelt, every blow landed can be felt, every impassioned scream sears the flesh, every bead of sweat dripping from Fritz's forehead can be tasted. If any character smiles, it's only fleetingly. It's beautifully shot, and yet retains an impressive aura of hopelessness about it. And the murder scenes will stay with you for some time, as they should.

A must-see.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Warner Bros (Germany)