Review: Into the Abyss

A look at a capital punishment case in Texas

Into the Abyss, a 2011 Metropole Films documentary by Werner Herzog, looks at a capital punishment case in Texas.

Convicted murderer Michael Perry.
Convicted murderer Michael Perry.


Going into watching this documentary there were several prevailing thoughts on my mind:

  • · I’m not sure how I feel about capital punishment. I definitely do not think it is a deterrent to any crime whatsoever, as evidenced by the amount of killing that occurs in the United States. On the flip side, killing someone who has killed is a pretty final way to make sure they don’t kill again.
  • · There is no shortage of capital punishment/murder books and documentaries about. The subject matter has been-pardon the pun-done to death.
  • · In Texas, they feel particularly obligated to kill someone if they even remotely believe they have killed another person.
  • · While I respect his success, I am not the biggest fan of Werner Herzog.

The above-listed in mind, I felt a certain amount of reluctance watching Into the Abyss, a 2011 documentary by legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog.

He chronicles the murder case against Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, both were 19 years old when they went to prison for murder.

Authorities believe Perry and Burkett killed 50 year old Sandra Stotler, her son Adam, and his friend, Jeremy Richardson in Conroe, Texas in October, 2001. (They were only convicted of the murder of Ms.Stotler). Perry was sentenced to death while Burkett received a life sentence.

Perry admitted killing Sandra Stotler but later recanted.[i]

The sordid details of the case involved many sick twists and turns, many of which were chronicled in Into the Abyss. I’ll spare you the side and related stories because they border on being spoiler alerts.

The convicted, the investigating law enforcement officials, prison staff, family members of the killed, as well as those who knew the killers, were among the many interviewed in the documentary.

The general style of the film was crafted through the narrative of the interviewees. It was an interesting tapestry of the many people whose lives were horribly affected by the killings. Their input made Into the Abyss highly compelling.

I can’t say I felt the same way about how the killers were showcased. Burkett and Perry, who were world class ne’ er do wells, somehow became acquaintances and roommates who felt a compelling need two what they did in order to get their hands on a Ford Mustang and Isuzu Rodeo SUV.

Burkett appeared hardened and bitter about what he described as a difficult life. He did regret his involvement with Perry, blaming him for many of what led up to his life behind bars.

Perry, who appeared quite boyish, was interviewed ten days before he was put to death. He talked about becoming a Christian and being at peace with his pending fate but never expressed even the slightest remorse over the killing.

What sickened me most about Perry was that he “forgave” those believed responsible for his fate.

I couldn’t see how he could have been in a position to forgive anyone. It reeked of a type of arrogance generally reserved for the worst kind of sociopath.

Into the Abyss didn’t change my ambivalence towards capital punishment and I certainly didn’t muster any sympathy for the convicted.

While the subject matter wasn’t terribly unique, it was handled with style and was very well done.

Into the Abyss is available through many of the video rental streaming services.


[i] http://urbangrounds.com/2010/07/michael-perry/

Murder in Texas

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Comments 3 comments

jmatthewdobson profile image

jmatthewdobson 18 months ago

I watched this film, I want to say, about a year ago. I thoroughly enjoyed Herzog's Timothy Treadwell documentary "Grizzly Man" and was interested in this film due to this crime taking place in Conroe, Texas where I spent a great deal of my childhood/teenage years. I do remember sympathizing with Perry somewhat, due to his "boyish" appearance and mannerisms, then you remember the heinous, meaningless crime which brings you back to reality. This is one I may need to re-watch. Enjoyed your review!


cwhyel profile image

cwhyel 18 months ago from Charleroi, Pennsylvania Author

Thank you. I'm thinking about giving another watch to see if I still get the same feeling.

I'm interested in seeing Grizzly Man and hope to some day watch it.


jmatthewdobson profile image

jmatthewdobson 18 months ago

Grizzly Man is interesting, but also disturbing in its story of a man driven insane by his obsession of living and "becoming one" with wild grizzly bears. It's definitely worth a view.

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