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Into the Abyss

3.8 out of 5 stars 115 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In his fascinating exploration of a triple homicide case in Conroe, Texas, master filmmaker Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Grizzly Man) probes the human psyche to explore why people kill and why a state kills. Through intimate conversations with those involved, including 28-year-old death row inmate Michael Perry (scheduled to die within eight days of appearing on-screen), Herzog achieves what he describes as a gaze into the abyss of the human soul. Herzog s inquiries also extend to the families of the victims and perpetrators as well as a state executioner and pastor who ve been with death row prisoners as they ve taken their final breaths. As he s so often done before, Herzog s investigation unveils layers of humanity, making an enlightening trip out of ominous territory.


Not counting the philosophical chapter headings and artful score, Into the Abyss registers as Werner Herzog's most conventional documentary to date. In this case, the director never shows his face, though his questions appear on the soundtrack, much as in the films of Errol Morris. Not that Herzog feigns objectivity. In conversation with condemned murderer Michael Perry, he states, “I think human beings should not be executed." In 2001, Perry and Jason Burkett led police on a high-speed chase through Conroe, TX in the wake of a triple homicide. Eighteen-year-old Perry ended up on death row, while Burkett got life in prison. Both men proclaim their innocence, though DNA evidence makes their participation clear (Herzog integrates crime scene footage that illustrates the brutality of the killings). Worse yet, their lust for a red Camaro moved them to murder the mother, her teenaged son, and the son's friend. Herzog interviews two surviving relatives, a friend of one prisoner, and the wife and incarcerated father of the other. In a way, the film plays like a sequel to Steve James's At the Death House Door, which featured a death row chaplain who came to regret the system in which he participated. Herzog interviews another minister, who laments, "You can't stop the process, but I wish I could." Similarly, the filmmaker makes no attempt to exonerate his subjects, but rather to question the benefits of capitol punishment, particularly when it’s no match for the cycle of violence from which Perry and Burkett sprang. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Werner Herzog
  • Directors: Werner Herzog
  • Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Parents Strongly Cautioned
  • Studio: MPI Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: April 10, 2012
  • Run Time: 107 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B006Z7Z3L8
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,067 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Joshua Miller VINE VOICE on March 4, 2012
Format: Blu-ray
Werner Herzog's second documentary of 2011 shows him at his least abstract. His previous doc, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, showed him experimenting with 3D and was a pretty straight-forward effort until the epilogue, but Into the Abyss is Herzog at his most focused. A rarity, he never appears onscreen and his iconic voice provides no narration, only appearing to quietly ask questions from behind the camera. Into the Abyss is populated with traditional Herzogian figures, people so delightfully weird they couldn't possibly be fiction, but the subject matter is far from delightful. Rushed into theatres after a surging interest in capital punishment, the film profiles two convicted killers, one's impending death by lethal injection, their crime, the climate of capital punishment, and those acquainted with them in various ways.

It's not Herzog's style to make the documentary equivalent of a persuasive essay and although he states that he's against capital punishment, his film makes no such statement. It looks at each person, presents each detail, and allows us to interpret this information ourselves. As you can expect from the work of this great filmmaker, the questions we're left with are far greater than a simple vote of "for" or "against" in regards to the death penalty.

Michael Perry is on death row for a triple homicide in Conroe, Texas. His accomplice, Jason Burkett, is serving a life sentence and is not eligible for parole until 2041. There is no implication of doubt over their guilt despite declarations of innocence, particularly from Perry. Both admit to being involved, but Perry pins the guilt on Burkett, while Burkett does likewise to Perry.
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* Werner Herzog: "The film is not just about capital punishment or death, victims and perpetrators and executioners. It's also about the urgency of life."

This isn't an "issue" documentary, one concerned with facts and arguments. It has those things, but it is not about those things.

* "I do not do interviews. I'm not a journalist. I have no catalogue of questions. I have discourse. And I do not know where it will lead me. A goal is to look deep into the heart of ourselves."

Like most Herzog films, this was an ambitious undertaking, but it was ambitious for a different reason. "Fitzcarraldo" and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" were ambitious because of immense logistical challenges. But this film was ambitious because he was trying to look 'into the abyss' of ourselves, and especially because he was trying to look 'into the abyss' of certain cautious and unrevealing rural Texans.

* "I was fascinated by this particular crime because of its senselessness."

Three people were killed for seemingly no other reason than a red Camaro--a red Camaro that the perpetrators kept for not even 72 hours before being detained, and a red Camaro that has since been impounded and eventually ruined when a tree grew through the floor.

* "While only eight hours of footage were shot to make the entire 118 minute film, the editing process was so intense that both the editor and I started smoking again."

The smoking paid off. There are some golden moments, like the preacher talking about his transcendent moment involving squirrels on a golf course, or the former executioner talking about living out the "dash" on the tombstone, or the cartoonish good ole' boy telling the story of getting stabbed with a screwdriver with almost clinical nonchalance.
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Format: DVD
Esteemed filmmaker and documentarian Werner Herzog scored with two high profile projects in 2011. First, the contemplative and reverential "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" detailed the discovery of the earliest recorded man-made paintings in the Chauvet Cave in Southern France. And, in what couldn't be a more dissimilar topic, he made "Into the Abyss." That's the thing about Herzog, though, he takes subjects of interest to him and then makes intensely personal films. In "Into the Abyss," he tackles the dissection of a decade old murder case in Conroe, Texas and follows it through to the present day execution of one of the convicted parties. At once, the piece wants to explore the details of a senseless act of violence, make a statement about class differences in society, explore the darkness inherent in humanity, and contribute an opposing argument to the death penalty debate. That's a lot of hefty goals! And although always fascinating, I'm not sure that the picture accomplishes quite everything that it sets out to do. The funny thing about "Into the Abyss," for me, was how pronounced Herzog's personal feelings are throughout, so he becomes one of the movie's central characters, if not its completely guiding focus.

Ostensibly the film is about a triple homicide. Two disadvantaged and undereducated teens in Conroe, Texas (Michael Perry and Jason Burkett) decided on a grand scheme to steal a car. Their master plan resulted in three brutal and unnecessary deaths. Perry was thought to be the actual triggerman and received the death penalty while Burkett got life in jail. By interviewing friends and families of the accused and their victims, Herzog paints a pretty bleak portrait of a class system that created this environment of violence.
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