Clive Barker’s horror movies are all about the secret thrill of S&M. In each one, blandly attractive young characters are confronted with leering devils who try to lure them into a world of corrupt, sinful pleasure, a world of spikes and blood and pain. You can tell which side the filmmaker is on: His heroes may triumph, but two minutes after leaving the theater, the only characters you can remember are the slavering demons.

In Nightbreed, which Barker adapted from his novel Cabal, Craig Sheffer plays a tortured young fellow who keeps dreaming of Midian, a parallel universe that’s like a leather bar in hell. The best thing in the movie is the crew of Midian monsters. They’re like creatures from the Star Wars saloon done up by Frederick’s of Transylvania.

Their leader, who has veins extending out of his head into multicolored dreadlocks, tells Sheffer that the Midian gang isn’t interested in a nice guy like him. That’s because Sheffer is what they call ”natural” (i.e., nonperverted at heart). But then Sheffer is killed, and his spirit is finally initiated into the fold. This comes as less than great news to his sweet-faced girlfriend (Anne Bobby), who’s obviously natural to the core. The fact that he’s dead but can still hang out with her is but one of many cosmic mysteries Barker never quite gets around to explaining.

Barker spins grisly fantasy out of sexual obsession, yet his style here couldn’t be less obsessive. It’s cluttered and rather incoherent, as though the trailers to four different horror movies had been spliced together. Still, true buffs will want to catch Nightbreed anyway, if only to see director David Cronenberg (The Fly) play a repressed psychiatrist. As the soft-spoken Dr. Decker (a variation on the Michael Caine character in Dressed to Kill), he’s not exactly scary, but he’s convincingly blitzed, like an English prof who has just returned to school after his third nervous breakdown. C+

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