Gas-s-s-s (1971) Also known as Gas! or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It. The honor of being named Worst Movie Ever Made has always been a hotly contested one. So much so that I’ve found it necessary to break it down into categories. Like, was any real money spent on this bow-wow, or was it financed by a loan from your uncle, like Kubrick’s Fear and Desire? Did it have any artistic pretensions, like Gus Van Sant’s Gerry? Is it a critical darling, like The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover? It’s not really fair to compare Plan 9 From Outer Space to something like Alien Vs. Predator, and not just for budgetary reasons. A truly awful movie should be something that someone actually thought was going to be good while he was making it.
In this case it was Roger Corman, of all people. Not exactly a man known for his deep, philosophical, thoughtful movies. But it seems that he felt this movie, the last one he made for the American International Pictures crap factory, actually had something to say. From Wikipedia: “He was unhappy because AIP made several cuts to the film without his approval, including removing the final shot where God commented on the action—a shot which Corman regarded as one of the greatest he had made in his life.” Trust me, if God himself had come down from on high and made the final cut, he couldn’t have done anything to save this gobbler.
The “idea” is that the military has accidentally released a gas, or I suppose a gas-s-s-s, that kills everyone over 25. We follow a meandering group of hippies in a salmon-pink Edsel from Dallas and across the badlands of Texas, where they encounter various groups of goofy 25-year-olds. There’s the football fanatics in dune buggies, and the biker/golfers in golf carts. One of them is Cindy Williams, who is pregnant but refusing to go into labor. Another is Ben Vereen, totally wasted here. Bud Cort is present, and so is Talia Shire, and I hardly recognized either of them. Both of them had a few years to go before starring roles.
It is clear that this is all meant in an absurdist vein. If you didn’t get it, there is an existential shoot-out in a junkyard, where people aim guns at each other and call out the names of western stars. “Randolph Scott!” POW! “Lee Van Cleef!” POW! “JOHN WAYNE!!!!” Ugh, ya got me, partner! The guns don’t smoke, and I thought at first they were just on such a low budget that they couldn’t afford blanks, but then I caught on. That is, I understood the concept, but am unable to say just why it was so disastrously not funny.
They wander and wander, no apparent goal in mind except they keep passing psychedelic Burma-Shave signs advertising The Oracle. If it was possible to take anything at all here seriously, it could certainly be seen as insulting not only to hippies, but to youth in general. They have all regressed back to cowboys and Indians. But it’s not even good enough to get worked up about.
I had thought Otto Preminger’s Skidoo was the nadir of ‘60s faux-psychedelia, but this one tops it. If you want to see a much more interesting, though flawed, treatment of the idea of everyone going crazy after an apocalypse, try Richard Lester’s The Bed-Sitting Room, from the previous year. I will bet you that Roger Corman saw that movie.