Greg Banks and his three friends find a mysterious camera while wandering around in the basement of an abandoned and reportedly haunted mansion in the neighborhood. They try it out and notice the pictures that develop are....strange. It doesn't take pictures of the scene in the view-finder but instead seems to predict horrific happenings. Intrigued, Greg takes it home with him and in the following weeks has to pay for the consequences of taking the mysterious thing.
Things get crazy when he walks home only to discover his father's brand new car in the driveway, so he snaps a photo of it. The developed image is of the car, totaled. A few days later his father is in a horrible car accident but luckily survives. At his friend Shari's birthday party, at her insistence, Greg takes a pic of her and she isn't in it....only the tree behind her is. A few hours later, she disappears and is gone for two days.
This camera is evil.
I must say I was very impressed with Say Cheese and Die. I don't remember disliking it as a kid, but it never really stood out to me for some reason -- it was in the middle of the pack with titles such as Phantom of the Auditorium and The Barking Ghost. Not bad, not great -- just sort of run-of-the-mill Goosebumps tales. This reread changed my opinion a bit, and like Stay Out of the Basement, I like this one more now than I did as a kid. This makes me thing Stine's kiddie chiller series works on a deeper level than I originally thought. Sure, these books are campy and ridiculous, but when they're good they can often act as sly commentary on modern Americana -- possession of the latest "things", obsession, adults' tendencies to not believe beyond what is right in front of them (seriously, I'd like to start a drinking game -- every time a parent in one of these books says "It's just the wind!", take a shot!), etc. Greg knows the camera is dangerous, but he keeps using it despite the consequences. I'd like to say that's a dumb thing for him to do, but if I came across something that could predict the future (or, rather, make the future happen as one character says) I think I would continue using it, risks be damned. That's just the way I am...and I guess that's not a very smart way to act, but I digress.
Stine's sense of pacing is stellar as it almost always is in these books -- he lets the story unfold at a brisk -- but not too brisk -- pace while letting it breathe. He shows horrors but doesn't linger on them. He makes the situation just believable and real enough to suck the reader in for 130-odd pages, but he doesn't forget his target audience is young children so none of it feels too real, which is okay.
If I had to make a complaint about this story it is I feel Stine didn't quite get all of the mileage out of the camera that he could have. The whole thing is a very neat concept, and I wish Greg had used it just a couple more times. Other than that, I have no issues here. The characters are likable and have as much depth as any of the folks who populate this series. The explanation for the camera was satisfactory. The use of the old mansion was pretty good. And I absolutely adored the ending -- this one doesn't have as much of a twist as other Goosebumps books, but Stine leaves the reader on a cliff-hanger that manages to be chilling and funny.
Overall, this is a very solid addition to the Goosebumps canon.
Up next: We're gonna play hide-and-seek with a guy wrapped in toilet paper. It's The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb!