Thinking Inside the Box

You’ve heard the phrase, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing.” It’s the truth. Sure, perhaps for a film or for a stage production, you can get away with a cheap imitation, but when it comes to getting up-close-and-personal in the scares department? Get real. No paper mache casket is going to cut it.

Me in a casket - Halloween 2013
Yep. That’s a real casket…

Couple years back, I was going to do a short film, and needed a coffin. In the past, when I’d run a haunted house attraction for the Valley Stream Parks Dept. (I think they’re still recovering), I built one with a fake bottom, hid the base so it didn’t look so deep, and we scared the heck out of kids and parents (and my bosses) by turning an empty casket into one with a resident in ghoulish makeup in the split-second it took to shut the lid and open it again. Great, easy-to-pull-off stunt-if you build it yourself.

But there was no denying, that box wasn’t going to pass for the real deal no matter how many manhours I put into making it look good. So, for my short film, I stopped banging my head against the wall trying to figure out a work around, and caught myself wondering: what if I could get my hands on a real one?

This led to a lot of internet hunting and contacting casket companies, many of which wouldn’t sell direct. The few that would, sold higher end models, and being an indie filmmaker (read: low-budget), I wasn’t going to spring for $1,300 for their bottom-of-the-line stiff stuffer.

That left calling funeral homes to see if I could rent one. (Laws vary by state, but in most you can’t rent one except to use at a viewing for the truly-deceased. Post-viewing, the funeral parlor must remove the interior lining and destroy it. I guess they’re worried about the dead catching something from one another.) Anyway, with rental of a deposit box for the necrotic out of the picture, I struck up a conversation with a funeral director who told me she’d be happy to show off some of her older inventory, and see if one of those from the showroom might work. Kind of like buying a car left over from the previous model year.

End result? I got a brand new steel casket with lining for $500. I didn’t do much shopping around due to the proposed shoot schedule, but afterward, I did find that yes, other funeral parlors had “clearance” coffins. No surprise, they would’ve been happy to cut me a break, considering, well, there just isn’t much of a market for caskets past their sell-by date.

Being the Halloween lover I am, I’ve used my spiffy steel single-sleeper at my Sis’ place the past 4 years. I’ve also multipurposed it for another shoot; for a promo clip used for the anniversary celebration; and at the local bar we haunt (ha-ha) for their Halloween festivities.

As well, I’ve been approached by fellow filmmakers about renting it for their own projects. Let’s face it-not many people have a real, honest-to-goodness casket in their garage for use at a moment’s notice. The $500 I spent on this baby? Worth every penny. And, I was in Miami when I bought it. If you’re in Duluth? Manassas? Cumberland, and start looking now? My guess is you’ll be able to beat the price.

But you won’t be able to beat the results. Trust me on that.

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