You know, it’s just the way things go that the younger generation doesn’t quite see things eye to eye with the generations that came before. There are certainly some younger folks who think that things would just be so much better if all the older folks would just hurry up and die already. You need only look as far as Twitter to see that this frame of mind still exists with some today. Well, this film, from director Roger Corman, shows what the world might be like if that were to actually happen. Let’s journey back to 1970 for Gas! or it Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save it.
The film begins with an animated segment to give us the backstory. Basically some government scientists accidentally released a gas into the air that is killing off everyone over the age of 25. We then follow a young hippie from Dallas named Coel (Robert Corff) who hooks up with a girl named Cilia (Elaine Giftos) who worked at the facility responsible for the gas. Free from being oppressed by the over 30 crowd, they hit the road. Along the way, though, they meet some other pilgrims, including Hooper (But Cort), Coraline (Talia Shire), Carlos (Ben Vereen) and Marissa (Cindy Williams). They all join in the cross- country adventure.
However, there are sinister forces out there, too. There are bands of roaming cowboys who rustle vehicles for their used car lot. They also run into a group of bikers who rule a golf course, and a town full of high school football players who now practice raping and looting instead of sports. Gradually, our band of heroes make their way to a commune in the desert where it’s all about peace, love, etc…that is until they have to fight off an attack by the football players.
Corman and writer George Armitage throw a lot into the mix with Gas-s-s-s (as it’s sometimes called). The film is kind of all over the place, but there is some pretty sharp satire of the counter-culture movement. What’s interesting is that the film certainly qualifies as a counter-culture film, yet it doesn’t present a very favorable vision of what would happen were the counter-culture to rule the world. Sure they get a few days of drugs and sex, but it doesn’t take long for opportunistic folks (with Nazi-like accents, of course) to take control and start restricting travel. Out in the wilderness, lawlessness takes over. The most disturbing portrayal of this (though it seems to be played for laughs) is the football team full of thieves and rapists. Utopia ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The film is kind of a mix of Easy Rider with a pinch of Mad Max, wrapped up in the off-the-wall comedy that was typical of many AIP productions. This is actually the last film that Roger Corman would do with American International Pictures. Supposedly the studio made some edits that Corman didn’t care for, especially in respect to the film’s ending. I’m not so sure that a different ending would’ve made much of a difference with the film’s ultimate effectiveness, though. Tonally, the film jumps from one extreme to another about every five minutes or so. That means for every bit entertaining the film is, it’s equally confusing. Where the film succeeds the most is in its simpler moments. There are some beautifully photographed sequences of our heroes driving across the southwestern landscape. One of the best scenes has them frolicking around an airplane graveyard in the middle of the desert. But then we have a scene where a trippy young doctor (who looks like he might be related to Carrot Top) is brought out to deliver Marissa’s baby. This is bad 70’s sitcom level stuff, folks.
The film is helped by a strong cast. Elaine Giftos turns in an especially likable performance. The whole time I was watching the film I kept thinking that I knew her from somewhere. Turns out she guest starred on just about every major TV show of my childhood. It’s also fun seeing some pretty big names like Talia Shire, Ben Vereen and Cindy Williams each in one of their first film roles. There’s also a cameo by Country Joe and the Fish in an appropriately psychedelic concert scene.
Gas-s-s-s is ultimately a film that is both entertaining and a bit frustrating. It’s a given that you’re always going to get something interesting with a Roger Corman film. This film is definitely interesting, but it lacks discipline. Considering the material, that may have been intentional. The over-reliance on goofball humor, though, detracts a bit from the film’s stronger, more introspective moments.
Note: Gas-s-s-s was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray by Olive Films. We appreciate them for letting us get a look at the film.