One of the best from one of the greats, Matty dances with John Eyres’ diverting thriller.
Stylistic pizzazz and shots of moving feet?
A wildly twisting narrative?
An uneasy yet ultimately respectful and — a new addition — romantic allegiance (between a nice-guy preppy lad and a tough cookie female car thief)?
You got it, pal.
That’s right: we’re in John Eyres country again and this time it’s a real humdinger. In fact, THE CONSPIRACY OF FEAR — Eyres’ tenth production, his ninth EGM flick, seventh directorial assignment, and second EGM offering after the departure of company co-founder Geoff Griffiths (the first was Project Shadowchaser III (1995)) — is among the Mancunian maverick’s best, up there with his bollock-knotting action horror hybrid From Beyond the Grave (1996), and cult robo-sploiter Project Shadowchaser (1992).
Mounted, pre-sold, and sometimes known internationally as ‘Bridge of Spies’, The Conspiracy of Fear is a cracking romp: gripping, devilishly entertaining, and, on occasion, pretty damn funny. It’s not a comedy, mind. Rather, the humour in Roy Sallows’ screenplay (which was built from an earlier draft by Eyres’ Project Shadowchaser and Monolith (1993) scribe, Stephen Lister) comes from the banter and exchanges that lead characters Chris (Andrew Lowery — the eponymous suitor in Bob Balaban’s My Boyfriend’s Back (1993)) and Jimmy (Leslie Hope — post Doppelgänger (1993), pre George Romero’s Bruiser (2000)) yelp at each other as Eyres inflicts holy hell upon them.
Brimming with an unmistakable Midnight Run (1988) flavour as Chris and Jimmy stave off a shady fed (a sturdy and ambiguously pitched Christopher Plummer) and a sadistic hitman (the wickedly memorable Geraint Wyn Davies) who’re chasing the germ warfare secrets of Chris’ recently assassinated papa, Eyres delights in stacking the deck against them. Without question, The Conspiracy of Fear is Eyres’ finest overstuffed caper. It’s the film his undisciplined sophomore feature, Slow Burn (1989), and the aforementioned Monolith aspired to be, the helmer balancing the numerous supporting players, elements, threads, and arcs with flair and precision.
As a technical exercise alone, The Conspiracy of Fear is a corker. Bolstered by Amanda I. Kirpaul’s rhythmic editing, which places great emphasis on seemingly innocuous details to amplify the heightened states/impossible scenarios that Chris and Jimmy are flung into, Peter Benison’s robust photography oozes slickness. Lensed primarily in Toronto (but set in Chicago), it makes the modestly-budgeted Conspiracy of Fear feel like the superlative Eyres audition piece for the big studio gig that, sadly, never came. Eyres could have easily become the next Ridley or Tony Scott, and a fiery scene of tightly-assembled vehicular madness; a bullet-peppered chase through the Old Chicago Main Post Office (or a facsimile of it at least); and an amazing, vertigo-inducing high fall as one of the film’s baddies goes bye-bye (kudos to stunt coordinator Alison Reid) cement the fact that Eyres certainly had the chops for bombastic Hollywood action.
However, it’s the way in which Eyres marries The Conspiracy of Fear’s visuals with the character stuff that’s this well-paced zinger’s richest pleasure. While you can perhaps level a little bit of criticism at the heavy-handed ‘missed paternal bonds’ angle that underlines both Chris and Jimmy’s union, and Jimmy’s relationship with a police captain (Kenneth Walsh) and a loveable hobo (Don Francks), Eyres’ aesthetic blend of wide-eyed innocence; down-on-the-street gristle; and cool sterility is excellent. It captures the nuances of his protagonists and accentuates the tension of the far-reaching mystery that engulfs them perfectly.
Bravo, too, to Eyres sticking Roxette’s 1988 hit Listen to Your Heart over the end credits. It’s the anthemic cherry on a tasty direct-to-video cake.
Despite playing theatrically in Germany and Italy, The Conspiracy of Fear premiered stateside on HBO on Friday 8th November 1996 and hit US tape in August 1998 via Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi’s PM Entertainment. Here in the UK, Columbia Tristar issued it on cassette in either late 1996 or early 1997 depending on your source.
Canada ● 1995 ● Thriller ● 110mins
Christopher Plummer, Geraint Wyn Davies, Andrew Lowery, Leslie Hope ● Dir. John Eyres ● Wri. Roy Sallows