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Making a Bloody Mess With Indonesia’s Gore Queen Kumalasari Tanara

We meet the woman behind the severed heads, broken noses, and gruesome gore of Indonesian films.
All photos by Iyas Lawrence

Kumalasari Tanara's cabinets are macabre cornucopia of severed limbs, chemical vats, and containers of "fresh blood." She has a collection battered heads and boxes labeled "mini skulls," and "old wounds." But Kumalasari, the special effects artist behind Pabrik Darah, insists she's not some kind of maniac.

"Making gore doesn't mean we're freaky maniacs," she said. "We have an appreciation for the art, and it's fun to create new things that we can share to the public."


Kumalasari, or Sari for short, is the woman behind some of the most gruesome blood, guts, and gore in recent Indonesian cinema. She knows what a broken nose looks like, and how to create the perfect black eye. She made dismembered heads for Rumah Dara, fist-pummeled faces for The Raid, and torture gore for Killers. But her career in the gore game all began with an obsession with her mother's beauty products.

Sari often stole her mother's makeup as a child and experiment with the colors, painting her face battered and beaten to scare her neighbors.

"It was fun putting makeup in other kids, but I would make them look bruised and we would all scream for help," she said. "Other people thought we'd been in an accident."

Kumalasari Tanara stands in front of shelves of fake blood. All photos by Iyas Lawrence

She studied the work of the gore greats: Tom Savini (of Night of the Living Dead fame) and Rick Baker (the man behind the Academy Award winning effects in An American Werewolf in London) and eventually moved to Germany to learn the trade.

"I was never the type to be grossed out easily," she said. "I'm up for anything. You want to play in the dirt? Get messy? Let's go."

In 2008, Sari was introduced to Timo Tjahjanto, who was looking for a special effects artist for his film Rumah Dara. The movie, a gruesome tale of a cannibalistic family, harkens back to the old "travelers in peril" films of the 1970s US horror scene.

Timo needed some serious gore for his film. By the end of the movie, Arifin Putra's head is literally ripped from his body, Julie Estelle is soaked in blood, and Dendy Subangil is completely dismembered. But Sari couldn't get her hands on the chemicals and materials needed for the film. She did the film nearly single handedly, working with two assistants on some days and figuring out DIY workarounds for missing ingredients.


"Early on, it was difficult for me," she said. "I had to go from one chemical store to another. All over town. They don't sell this stuff."

Movie blood needs to be thick enough to hold up over multiple takes.

Getting fake blood just right was one of the hardest skills to learn. Movie blood needs to be the right shade of red, and the right consistency to stand up to the pressures of long shoots.

"Because it's for a shoot, I made it purposely thick," she said. "If it isn't thick, we would have a hell of a time to keep continuity. It'll drip all over the place."

She dismissed claims that Indonesian horror and action films use animal blood on the set. Sari said it's "impossible," to use real blood. "It's smells, it attracts flies. No… it's disgusting," she explained.

She spends hours on research for each job, pouring over gruesome images of dead bodies and autopsy close-ups, before getting to work on the gore.

"I was never the type to be grossed out easily. I'm up for anything. You want to play in the dirt? Get messy? Let's go." — Kumalasari

"[When] you're into the industry for so long, you get used to seeing things like this," she said. "Not a lot of people understand that effects aren't just finished in a day. There's a long process of creation for what we're making."

"Have any of the actors asked for souvenirs?" I asked.

"There was one request from the film we're currently shooting," she said with a smile. "Her mom actually asked for it So I casted a replica of this girl's head and her mom said 'Let's buy it and use it to scare your dad'. I guess the mom also has a wild sense of humor."


Kumalasari Tanara prepares to create a fresh wound.

When she's not making movie gore, Sari works as a makeup artist, focusing on a side of her career that allows her to balance the grotesque with the gorgeous.

"Beauty makeup also has it's own challenges," she said. "You could get a model with bad skin, but they want to portray natural beauty. How are we supposed to do that?"

The realities of the Indonesian film industry have allowed Sari to continue to find work in a time when more expensive Hollywood films prefer CGI over practical effects. The local film industry is in the middle of a boom—with domestically produced films breaking local box office records for the first time in nearly a decade. But the budgets, and the constraints they place on a film, are still oceans apart from those in places like the US.

"We've got a long way to go," Sari said. "The budget for CGI is much more expensive than practical effects, and even practical effects have their own limitations budget wise."