Although his film is intended as a tribute, filmmaker Dustin Lance Black doesn’t do the late Dr. Donald A. Reed any favors in “My Life With Count Dracula.” While saluting Reed’s oddball contributions to film appreciation through the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films and its Saturn Awards, pic’s inordinate focus on Reed’s messy domestic life and sad final illness twists the salute into an unfortunate exercise in macabre voyeurism. As a result, what could have been a nifty specialized item for buffs and genre fans emerges as, at best, a curiosity item for trawlers of Hollyweird esoterica.
A familiar face on the L.A. screening circuit for close to 40 years, Reed was a cherubic little fellow with a high-pitched voice and a law degree who always dressed in coat and tie and was usually surrounded by an entourage of conspicuously good-looking young men. Working out of the modest family home in which he grew up in South Central, Reed first sought celebrity — and celebrities — as founder of the Count Dracula Society, which got him (excerpted) TV time on CBS News and, amusingly, as a “real” contestant on “To Tell the Truth.”
Seeking greater horizons for his entrepreneurial geekdom, Reed was in the right place at the right time during the sci-fi and horror explosion of the ’70s and launched the Saturns. These awards were legitimized by Reed’s contention that genre fare was unfairly ignored at the Oscars but were plainly most motivated, especially in their nationally televised heyday, by Reed’s obvious delight at being ringmaster at events that were among the first to celebrate the work of Friedkin, Spielberg, Lucas, Schwarzenegger and Cameron, as well as many greats of yesteryear.
All this is documented in relatively chaotic fashion, just as evocative clips from “Nosferatu” and the original “Dracula” are interspersed willy-nilly into the proceedings. Dominating everything, however, are forlorn scenes of Reed, an overweight diabetic in his early 60s, photographed at uncomfortably close and unflattering range having an MRI, trying on clothes in a changing room, giving himself an insulin shot in his drooping belly, using the bathroom in his suffocatingly cluttered house and visiting his doctor, who futilely instructs his patient to lay off the sweets. He’s also seen trying to summon the energy to stage a 26th edition of the Saturn Awards in 2000, a year when few of the winners would be attending. Reed, who aptly states herein that the core appeal of Dracula lies in his powerful bid at immortality, died the following year at age 65.
But perhaps the low point is Black’s coverage of legendary sci-fi collector/historian Forrest J. Ackerman’s 84th birthday party, which reveals writer Ray Bradbury, in the wake of a stroke, attending in his underwear while sporting a cane.
Film does a cursory job of tracing Reed’s life story, but shows little interest in getting to the bottom of his psychology and decidedly odd personality and lifestyle. On the one hand referencing a 12-year “girlfriend” while on the other allowing one associate to whisper that he thought Reed might be “homosexual,” this look at an obsessive’s life evidences no point of view other than tacit admiration for a man who was able to extend his childhood passions into an adult livelihood.
For anyone who knew Reed even slightly, pic disappoints on two counts: It’s a shame to dwell on him so far removed from his enthusiastic prime, and his weirdness demanded much bolder and more clear-minded inquiry than it is afforded here.
Numerous industry pals and Saturn honorees, notably Bryan Singer, Doug Wick, Dean Devlin and Randall Kleiser, put in appearances. Tech aspects are rudimentary.