Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Goosebumps Review: Say Cheese and Die!

One picture is worth a thousand screams.
So, here is yet another Goosebumps book, the fourth in the series. It is based on The Twilight Zone  episode "A Most Unusual Camera" written by Rod Serling. Its premise is simple: there is a camera and it takes pictures of the future. There is a more complex plot hidden under there, but, put simply, the camera is evil, it takes evil pictures. It makes the people who have their pictures taken have a terrible fate, up to and including death.

This is the first Goodebumps book with an actual human dying within it. In this case it is the mad scientist, Spidey, or Dr. Fredericks as the ending reveals him as. He actually dies in this book, and his death is described in detail, something I don't remember and was not expecting. That was kind of shocking, even though the book itself really isn't at all.

Say Cheese and Die! was released in November 1992, and is very different from the three earlier books in the series. While all of those books draw heavily upon the childhood fears of moving, being abandoned, and having a parental figure be too busy for their child, this book has very different kinds of fears brought out. These aren't fears that the children can't control. Instead they have full control over the impetus of the plot. They didn't have to break into an abandoned house. They didn't have to steal the camera. They didn't have to take pictures with it. They didn't have to play with the fire of the pictures even after they knew they were playing with fire. And they didn't need to return it to the crazy and creepy old scientist just so he could try to "keep" them there "forever." (That's the plot by the way. Yes, that paragraph is the entire plot. You're welcome.)

Because the plot is driven by the kids, specifically Greg and Shari, the main characters here, the fears are a little different. Yes, Shari goes missing, which is a big deal within the story, and a big deal to the readers themselves. A kid disappearing is a terrifying and horrible thing, and while it isn't mentioned so much here, it is a much scarier thing (and a much more real thing) to have happen than a supernatural camera taking evil pictures. I get the feeling that Shari's disappearance is the main point of the book- well, kidnapping in general since that seems to be what Spidey wants to do as well. The point seems to be that kids can get into trouble and disappear or get taken quite easily if they do the wrong things.

So, ultimately this book doesn't seem to be lighthearted or childish at all. It seems pretty serious and very dark. While I like the idea of Shari disappearing into nowhere because and evil camera stole her soul, I really find it surprising that R. L. Stine could even get that kind of content into a book for young children. I mean, the whole book is basically a big warning for them. It's not about the story. It's about the consequences of silly or stupid actions.

While there is some horror here, I wouldn't exactly call it gripping. In fact, I would call this book the least character-driven of the books I've reviewed so far. Each character introduced is a cardboard cut-out, which is not a terrible thing here since the important point isn't character or plot but rather the message. I guess the whole evil camera story doesn't really interest me. It seems like a one-trick pony. Yes, I know there's at least one sequel to this book, but I have no idea how this can stay interesting.

For what it's worth, I liked this book a decent amount. It was focused and to the point. There are genuine emotions within it and some decent writing besides. It's a little too convenient for my taste at times though, and the moral can be pretty heavy-hitting. I think it's an okay read, forgettable, but it doesn't do anything really wrong. It's mostly just there.

As a kid I wasn't really into this book. I read it maybe once or twice at absolute most, and remembered literally nothing about it except for the picture (a dream the character Greg has) on the cover of the book. It is probably the most memorable piece of the book, as Greg dreams of his family of skeletons. Because I remember so little of this book, I don't really have much to talk about. It's very dry at times, and I doubt I'll remember it much once I finish this review either. Although it is one of the first books in the series, it is a bit of a dud, being more mediocre than good, and more idea than horror. I do like kids doing what kids do only to get in a ton of trouble of their own making, but I also tend to like more interesting and grandiose horror from R. L. Stine.

I can't recommend this book because it simply isn't interesting enough to really get into. Reading a summary gives about as much information from the story as actually reading it. And reading it feels like eating lettuce, simply empty calories for your brain. I'm probably being a little harsh, but after the headiness of the third Cheerleaders book, this one is a bit of a letdown. Then again, the next book, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb was always one of my favorite early books in the series. So, I'm looking forward to that one being as awesome as I remember.

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