July 20, 2009

DVD Review: Gas-s-s-s

If you look in different places you will find the title in two different formats. the DVD cover and the trailer list it as Gas-s-s-s, while the title card on the film says Gas! or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It (clearly an homage to Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). Whichever way you choose to take the title, it is an odd one to be sure. As for the movie itself? I feel pretty confident in saying I have not seen a movie quite this trippy in a long time, and I have seen some pretty out there movies. It is the sort of movie you are either going to get behind and enjoy the heck out of it, or you going to turn it off in a matter of minutes, never to look at it again. To take that a step further, if you watch it while enhanced in some manner, it could very well become your new favorite movie of all time. (the author and this site in no way, shape, or form advocate becoming enhanced while watching movies.)

Released in 1971, Gas-s-s-s is one of the last films that Roger Corman ever directed. He had a couple of films released the same year, followed by a couple unofficially directed films in the next decade. The only other film he has directed since is 1990's Frankenstein Unbound with Raul Julia. Corman is a legend in the business, but sometimes you have to wonder just what in the world he was thinking. This movie is seriously out there, has only a gossamer thread of a plot to follow and there is virtually no flow from one sequence to the next. It is more like a loosely connected sketch show that relies on music to carry you from one place to the next.

This movie brings together all sorts of ideas into one big melting pot where the ingredients don't really want to place nice. It is the kind of film that probably graced many drive in and grindhouse screens. Think about the union of the hippie road movie, post-apocalyptic thriller, science fiction, comedy, and drama. Mind blowing, ain't it?

The film begins with a crudely drawn, yet highly effective opening sequence that has a military man (who talks like John Wayne) and a government official in Alaska giving an opening ceremony for some new chemical warfare plant to some Eskimos (are there Eskimos in Alaska?). Something goes wrong and a gas is released that causes the metabolism in people over the age of 25 to speed up, resulting in a quick death by old age. What happens after this is a subversion of the American way as society breaks down and people squabble over how to best run this new emerging world.

The story centers on an evolving group of hippies who choose to leave their Texas town, which has been carved up into smaller states with their own sets of rules. Their destination? A commune in New Mexico where people of like minds are gathering. Along the way the come across cowboy car thieves, football fascists who call themselves the Warriors and have the motto "Rape, Pillage, Loot," (perhaps an influence for The Warriors? perhaps), and a whole assortment of hippies and the like, even featuring an appearance by Country Joe & the Fish.

The movie almost defies explanation. It is put together in such a haphazard fashion that it is really hard to get into it. Still, there is no denying that Roger Corman and writer George Armitage (who would go on to direct films Grosse Point Blank and The Big Bounce) are attempting to make a statement on the country as the 1960's come to a close. The idea of using a post-apocalyptic type set up to tell the story is a rather ingenious one, it is rather effective in breaking up the young populace, throwing them into sudden turmoil where they must come face to face with the world's baser instincts.

With all of that said, the film is seriously goofy. For example, there is a shootout where they fire at each other by saying the names of Western film stars, or another where a flasher goes up to a few people in succession and gets no response until he comes across a cop, and don't even get me started on the love scene ("Arrowfeather!"). We also get dune buggy chases (with the football players) and a golf cart chase (with the Hell's Angels). This movie is all over the map. Then there is the rape sequence, it is not graphic, but it is rather bizarre with how matter-of-factly it is dealt with (I thought that was left to Euro-horror).

Roger Corman is a prolific film producer who works very often on a shoestring budget, and that is quite evident here. He also shows his eye for talent. Over the course of his career in the industry, he has had the opportunity to work with some recognizable names early in their career. This movie features Cindy Williams and Ben Vereen in early roles.

Audio/Video. The transfer is quite solid. The movie definitely shows its age and budget on its sleeve, but the transfer is clean, clear, and devoid of most blemishes. There is a good deal of grain present. I am quite pleased with the look of the film, it is considerably nicer than I was expecting. The same goes for the audio, which definitely shows its age, but still is quite clear and crisp, although you can see where some of the dubbing does no quite match up. Still, it is hard to complain about he quality, a good job was done on a film that probably does not deserve it.

Extras. The film has no extras aside from the original trailer. However, this is a part of the four disk Roger Corman Collection, featuring eight films. Gas-s-s-s shares a disk with the Peter Fonda starring The Trip. The box set pretty much makes up for the lack of extras on this movie.

Bottomline. Whether or not Corman and Armitage were actually trying to make a statement or if they were simply seeking to exploit the end of the era is up in the air. No matter how you want to slice it, the film is unique. I cannot say I have any great desire to watch it again, but it was mesmerizing to watch unfold in its decidedly non-traditional fashion. For the curious, it is definitely worth a peek.

Mildly Recommended.


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