At a military weapons plant in Alaska, an opening ceremony goes horribly wrong when a bottle of celebratory champagne is mixed up with a bottle of deadly gas - deadly to everyone over the age of twenty-five, at any rate. Quickly the fumes take the world by storm, leaving a young population to work out which path to take next. Two of those young people are Coel (Robert Corff) and Cilla (Elaine Giftos), a couple who decide to leave the big city which is quickly growing deserted and set off in their pink Edsel, heading for Mexico and a supposed utopian life begun anew. However, it's not long before it's clear that not everyone has the same ideals as Coel and Cilla, and they run into problems...
Very much of its time, Gas!, also known as Gas-s-s-s... was the last film cult producer-director Roger Corman made for American International Pictures due to them recutting it without his permission and so has a small place in movie history. Indeed, it was one of the last films Corman directed for anybody, as he turned to producing full time a soon afterwards (The Red Baron was his final effort the same year before Frankenstein Unbound almost twenty years later). And how many directors could say they had been this experimental at this stage in their careers, as Gas! resembles a wild sketch comedy and certainly one of the more eccentric takes on the Apocalypse.
But it's really less an Apocalypse and more a new start, what with all the grown-ups out of the way there's no-one to tell the youngsters what to do all the time - nobody will be bothering about the war, that's for sure. Written by George Armitage, the plot is fairly basic, but its the jokes and irreverent observations on society that count, and the film looks today like a snapshot of the attitudes of a counterculture that was already growing out of date by its release. As they drive through the desert countryside, Coel and Cilla are eventually stopped by a gang of outlaws led by Armitage playing "Billy the Kid", showing not all share their optimism.
Billy and his friends take the car for their collection, leaving Coel and Cilla to wander into the nearest town. There, in a supermarket, they meet a group of people more on their wavelength, including a pregnant woman, Marissa (Cindy Williams), and her boyfriend Carlos (Ben Vereen). Now with their own gang, Coel and Cilla venture back to reclaim their car, and a gunfight ensues with the shooters shouting out the names of cowboy actors instead of firing bullets, yet another example of the wacky sense of humour at work here. The car is secured, and off they drive, stopping off at various points along the way for such things as a Country Joe and the Fish concert.
There's a carefree, refreshing air to Gas! that helps carry the frequently irrelevant and obscure storyline where it seems the most important thing is to reach the next gag or reference. Edgar Allan Poe rides up on a motorbike complete with raven on his shoulder to make observations, and the forces of oppression are ironically represented first by fascistic American football players in dune buggies and then by golf-obsessed Hell's Angels travelling in golf carts. Though not the most coherent of movies, the cast enter into the spirit of the thing (Alex Braunstein's Dr Drake is especially amusing) and there are quite a number of laughs to be had, even if most of the time it's hit and miss. It makes you wonder where Corman would have gone if he'd decided to carry on in this auteurist manner, as this film serves as a tribute to his A.I.P. days as much as anything else. Music by Country Joe McDonald (for the songs) and Barry Melton.