Gas! -Or- It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It would be the last movie that Roger Corman would direct for AIP. And it would be the last film he’d helm for nearly twenty years, too. Why? Turns out Corman was unhappy to the cuts made to the film (AIP and Corman had a handshake agreement that he would have final cut). In particular, he was enraged that they’d removed what he saw as the end of the movie — a shot where God looked over 300 extras and commented on the action. The shot that he felt was one of the greatest he had made in his life ended up on the cutting room floor.
The film opens with an animated sequence where the end of the world is overseen by a John Wayne-sounding general. The army was in charge of a gas that killed everyone over the age of 25 and it is accidentally released.
Cut to Southern Methodist University, where the news is all over campus. Two hippies, Coel and Cilla, fall in love. As a Nazi-esque police force is running Dallas, they decide to run toward Mexico. On the way, they meet Marissa (Cindy Williams, Shirley from TV’s Laverne & Shirley, as well as The Conversation and American Graffiti), Carlos (Ben Vereen), Hooper (Bud Cort) and Coralee (Talia Shire, billed here as Talia Coppola).
What follows are some stream of consciousness adventures, like a concert at a drive-in where Country Joe and the Fish (Joe’s name here is AM Radio and he can speak with the voice of God, who sounds like an old Jewish man) play, a game of golf with some bikers and some sleeping around but it’s all cool because this is the future of the hippies and everyone is chill with one another.
Finally, they find a peaceful commune, but a football team attacks. God comes to help, everyone is reunited and then a big party happens where everyone gets along. Peace and love, peace and love.
Writer George Armitage had pitched Corman on a film called Carrot Butts, where cartoon characters came to life. They couldn’t get it produced but did get this one off the ground. He went on to write and direct several films, most famously Grosse Pointe Blank, Vigilante Force and Private Duty Nurses.
There’s even a tribute to Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movies, as Poe appears riding a motorcycle.
It really shows that Corman was growing tired of the hippie rhetoric and ethos. In the book Roger Corman: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers Series), he said, “I was beginning to get a little disillusioned. I intended that the picture be sympathetic toward our lead gang of kids yet, at the same time, I wanted to show that I was beginning to suspect that all of the ideas being spouted by the counter-culture and all of the dreams were not totally rooted in reality. In the picture, I wanted to literally give youth the world they desired and, then, make a cautionary statement about how youth might not be able to handle it as perfectly as they anticipated.”
This is a film of its time. It’s filled with long shots of riding dune buggies to folk music and lots of earnestness. If Idaho Transfer is the dismal end of idealism, this is its last gasp, struggling for a perfect world, even if the world has to die to get there.