Halloween Remote Controlled Casket




About: There are some things you should just never, never, do...

How scary would it be to have a casket with a dead guy in it open up and he rise from the dead. Wow!
Well it is quite a big project but well worth it! This is a self contained (well it does have 1 extension cord running to it) Casket that opens and a corpse sits up - all at the push of a remote control button.

There is nothing that adds more realism to the prop than an actual casket. A 'real' one. Ours is a two-door, low miles and we are the original owners. However, obtaining a 'real' casket can be somewhat difficult. The casket challenge has eased up a bit with the new laws that require that funeral homes must accept caskets from outside sources. The internet has also helped with competition driving down prices. Most, if not all casket sellers are targeted to ship to a funeral home, so the tricky part may be to find someone who will take delivery of your casket or sell you one near cost.

Aside from the casket challenge the project can be broken down into five main areas:

1) Corpse (Who we affectionately call 'Bob')
2) Mechanics
3) Pneumatics
4) Electronics
5) Accessories

Step 1: Bob (the Dead Guy)

Photo 1. Bob's head is essentially an off-the-shelf full-head latex mask from a halloween store that is modified and filled with rigid urethane foam.

The mask had the eye holes closed off from behind with ping-pong ball halves with red LED's hot glued in place. The mouth area was closed off from behind with an empty ice cream pint container with a small speaker in it. A t-shaped PVC pipe armature was inserted and the whole head filled with expanding urethane foam. This is NOT 'Great Stuff', foam but two part liquid foam that is mixed one-to-one by volume that expands after mixing to 30 times its volume. It ends up being rigid and weighing about 2 lbs per cubic foot. It does a nice job of filling Bob's head and holding together all the electronics. The LEDs are connected in series with a ~300 ohm resistor (need to pick a value based on LEDs and brightness desired) and are powered by a 9V battery. The speaker was added in case I ever wanted to have Bob speak, but presently that feature is not used.

Photo 2. The latex head was taped to a hole in a cardboard box with the head being outside the box so that the box could act as a staging/funnel area. The whole assembly was placed into another box and back filled with packing peanuts to help support the assembly while the foam set.

Photo 3. Finished foam core head.

Step 2: Bob's Body and Motion Cylinders

Photo 1. Bob was originally thought of as a complete body. And you can see that we laid out an armature for him. However to simplify and also because there was no need for the portion of the body that did not show, we only kept the top portion. The frame at the waist was modified, adding a 90 degree turn upward to create a lever so that the torso could be tilted upward.

Photo 2. Shows the PVC torso installed into the casket.

Photo 3. Shows the PVC 'lever' that is part of Bob's framework with the pneumatic cylinder attached. Bob's torso is located to the left and pivots up as the cylinder contracts.

Photo 4. Shows the lid cylinder position between brackets added to the lid and the sidewall of the casket. A spring tensioned cord was added to slow down the travel of the cylinder as it reached the end of its travel. The pressure needed to get the lid to start to move was too great by the time the lid reached full extension so the cord and spring went taunt at the end of the travel.

Bob's PVC from was intended to have carved foam provide the substance of him. But to save time and money he was ultimately stuffed with newspaper. His clothes were from the thrift store and were distressed by tearing (a rasp works nicely), burning (looks nice but leaves a strong smell), and staining with a salt water solution and with spray paint.

Step 3: Pneumatic Control

Bob's operating sequence is to have the casket lit open followed by Bob sitting up. Bob can stay sitting up indefinitely as long as pressure remains in the actuating cylinders.

Photo 1. Shows the solenoid valves, along with metering valves and exhaust silencers (tissue in cut tubes). The solenoid valves are operated on 24V ac or dc. They have 3 ports, essentially a single pole double through air switch, so that the common port 'A' is at port 'B' when idle and at port 'C' when energized. The valves are connected so that the common port 'A' goes to the cylinders, port 'B' (idle) vents to a metering valve and exhaust silencer, and Port 'C' goes to the pressurized air (actually CO2) source.

in this way the air pressure is off when the valve is idle. When the valve is actuated by applying 24V the pressure is fed into the cylinder causing the desired motion. As long as the valve is actuated the pressure remains and the cylinder remains extended. When the voltage to the valve is removed the common 'A' (cylinder) port is disconnected from the pressure and connected to the metering valve to vent the pressure out of the cylinders slowly so that Bob and the lid return slowly.

There are also metering valves on the pressure side of the solenoid valves to slow the opening/sitting up movement. Otherwise the action take place to swiftly. The whole pneumatic system is run off of a CO2 tank regulated down to about 90 psi. The CO2 is ideal since it is totally silent and since the tank contains liquid CO2 under pressure which turns into gas as the pressure is used. There is tremendous volume of gas available without the noise of compressors or small volume of compressed air tanks.

Photos 2 & 3 Solenoid Valves.

Step 4: Electronic Controls

Bob is operated by radio remote control. Almost any off-the-shelf RF remote control that provides an energized AC outlet will work. I took a unit designed to plug into the wall and plugged it into an extension cord that runs outside of the casket to a wall outlet to provide power.

Photo 1. Shows the general layout of components. The key to the system is two 120Vac time delay relays. These little gems have SPDT relay contacts that close after an adjustable delay has passed after 120Vac is applied. In Bob's case the two relays (one Lid, the other Bob) both receive 120Vac when the remote control when the remote button is pressed turning the system ON. The lid relay has a shorter delay so it closes first, opening the lit. The second relay has a longer delay so that it closes last and causes Bob to sit up after allowing the lid to open fully, plus some delay. When power is removed both relays open and both solenoid valves shift to vent, but the lid metering valve is set to vent slower than Bob's metering valve so that Bob reclines fairly quickly and then the casket lid closes.

Photos 2, 3, 4. Time delay relays.

Step 5: Stand or Graveyard

Photo 1. Bob can be 'deployed' as at a viewing/wake. This was done with a stand made of plywood squares that have interleaving slots cut so that the squares fit together to form an X-shaped (top view) pedestal that was covered with black cloth.

Photo 2. Bob can also be located in the grave yard ready to be interned. This can be done by providing a reproduction of the funeral home's lowering device made from plastic drainage pipe spray painted silver with gallon paint cans at the corners with inverted cereal bowls, all painted silver.


Halloween Decorations Challenge

Finalist in the
Halloween Decorations Challenge

4th Epilog Challenge

Participated in the
4th Epilog Challenge



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    9 Discussions


    2 years ago

    The 120vac system was used because I used time delay relays to control the lid open AND sitting up and had to coordinate them. If you wanted to just open a lid you could go much more simplified. Also I used pneumatics because of the weight involved. If you have a very light lid (i.e., your treasure chest and lid were of cardboard) you might want to consider some type of linear actuator. This one is 12Vdc but only moves 3/4 inch, but if the lid were light enough you could arrange it close to the hinge.

    If you need to lift more weight or need greater distance travel another inexpensive way is with a leadscrew. This one will travel about 7 inches and run on 12-24Vdc.

    Good Luck!


    2 years ago

    I need to make a self-opening lid for a treasure chest for a work project. Can this be done on a 12 volt system, rather than ac? And what would I need to do just the lid part of the casket, so I could use the same basic system?

    Relative of a relative is a mortician. Bought it at cost. But with today's internet casket sales, I would think that it's not that difficult to get your hands on one. Although they are expensive. I was single and had a fairly large disposible income at the time I purchased it. I wouldn't be able to purchase it today since my Halloween budget is not nearly as high. But I will have to say that this casket (even just sitting there doing nothting) gets more shocking reactions than any other Halloween prop I have so I think it has been worth it.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks Lime3D! I took a look at bestpricecaskets website and it looks pretty reasonable if you go for a 20 gauge, no seal, type of casket(Reasonable in comparison to what others are asking; since ~$800 is beyond reasonable for most people for a prop!). They will ship directly to a residence (they have customers that want to have a casket before the need) and if you ship via truck I think they will ship for free.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    wow amazing i would run for the hills if i saw this rise up