Book: Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island


Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island

English Book Title

Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island


John LeMay


Bicep Books





By: Nicholas Driscoll

I just feel rather overwhelmed by all the reviews and articles I want to write, and so this particular review has gone “unmade” for way too long. I meant to write up a review months ago, but it’s easy to get thrown off track by life. Even this review will probably be quite a bit shorter than my usual stuff, which is a shame as Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island is a very ambitious and enjoyable book in its own right, and most kaiju fans should really enjoy it a lot, as well as learn quite a bit, as the book is packed with surprising and fascinating information… with many of my usual caveats that I have had with other LeMay works.

Note: I am Facebook friends with John LeMay and also with contributor Justin Mullis, so while I don’t think that will affect my judgment as far as their work here goes, I thought I should mention it. Also, this is a review of the Kindle version, which apparently is an inferior version of the book (also much cheaper)—the physical version includes pictures, while the Kindle version that I read had none outside of the cover.

The idea of Kong Unmade is to explore many, many Kong and giant ape films and TV shows that never made it off the drawing board… although LeMay and his array of contributors also frankly cover a lot of films that WERE made and released as well. It would take a long time just to go over everything that’s included, so I won’t even try—but the gist of it is, we have looks at the process of making the Kong movies we do have (such as alternate scripts and changes), we have looks at unmade sequels and rip-offs (such as Tarzan vs. King Kong and King Kong vs. Frankenstein), and we have in-depth explorations of unmade TV shows, including a scrap book of an unmade show called Kid Kong contributed by Robert Lamb, who worked on the show. The book also includes reviews of movies such as King Kong vs. GodzillaThe Mighty Gorga, and Queen Kong. Monster movie scholar Justin Mullis also provides a really exhaustive look at the Delos W. Lovelace adaptation of the original King Kong (1933), reprints of some articles by Don Glut on his fan films, and Kaiju Transmissions podcaster Kyle Byrd contributes a detailed and loving account of the making of The Lost World (1925). Plus appendices about Kong-related TV shows, movies, and even more lost projects. Gosh!

Much of this work is really entertaining and informative. I really enjoy reading John LeMay’s books, as he has a winsome and enthusiastic writing style that makes me want to keep plowing through, and he is tenacious about digging up obscure monster facts, even if sometimes I find some of his research methods questionable. However, as with his other books, this one too has an uneven and unfocused feel. It’s supposed to be about lost projects, but huge sections of the book are about the development of movies that were released, or are reviews of movies that we can easily view today. While the main book has a sprinkling of giant ape movie reviews throughout, for some reason one of the appendices takes a bunch MORE reviews and puts them together back there… but there doesn’t seem to be a very clear reason why some reviews were put in the main section of the book, and others were relegated to the back. I am not really complaining, but it creates a sense of confusion or disorganization to the book. Also, the previous books I read by LeMay relied heavily on machine translation of Japanese texts, which causes its own problems (here LeMay’s entries on Japanese films I would guess at least partially rely on the same machine translation tricks). Here, his research on English films also produces a different problem (at least in my eyes): really long and often unnecessary quotations from those referenced texts. Over and over again LeMay includes lots and lots of quotations from his research, and sometimes they felt to me to be poorly integrated, or just excessive.

His contributors bring their own strengths and weaknesses. Mullis matches LeMay with his passion, but provides a more scholarly tone in his extended article. Still, at times when I was reading Mullis’ work, I also felt it was a bit unfocused as well, as the essay (to me) seemed to veer off topic from time to time. Don Glut’s essays personally were kind of interesting in the sense of looking at how fan films were made in a previous time, but felt a bit out of place in this book to me. I wondered if Kyle Byrd’s text might have been better at the beginning of the book, since it gives a pre-history to King Kong. As for Robert Lamb, his section is very short in the Kindle version, but its great getting a glimpse into the world of animation from the 80s and 90s from someone who worked on some of the most popular children’s cartoons of the time, such as Masters of the Universe and The Original Ghostbusters. I think the scrapbook section is more fleshed out in the physical version of this book, but I can’t comment on that part.

In sum, Kong Unmade is a great deal of fun to read, with a wealth of material that monster lovers should go bananas for. While the contents are far from flawless, there is SO MUCH here, as well as so MANY interesting facts and obscure projects that I for one loved reading it. I also love the cover, which pays homage to the wonderful Ian Thorne children’s books about monster films that I grew up with. It’s true that this book still feels like what it is—an independently published labor of love, with all the warts that come from that designation. But it’s still an easy recommendation from me if you like this kind of thing.