Jul 27, 2023 | Goosebumps

Goosebumps #44:
Say Cheese and Die — Again!

© 1996 by Parachute Press. Cover Art by Tim Jacobus.

Sequel to: Say Cheese and Die!



Spoiler-Free Review

Say Cheese and Die – Again! is a sequel we probably could have done without. It’s not that it was aggressively bad so much as it was frustrating and forgettable. It ended up being just a rehash of the first book, only with a few new evil camera tricks. There was an opportunity to do something different and interesting with the narrative that Stine almost took, but that’s not the book we got. The characters are particularly frustrated in this, as every bad thing they stumble into should have been easily avoidable. There were a few random details I enjoyed. Sheri’s predicament ended up being some great unsettling body horror. A story focused on her might have been more interesting than Greg’s problematic (fatphobic) story arc. Speaking of Greg’s parents, they gave us some very noteworthy examples of terrible Goosebumps parenting. Honey, our kid just gained over 100 pounds in a single day! We should definitely make him go to school even though he can’t fit in the car, and then maybe think about taking him to a doctor later in the week.” I could write a dissertation on the faulty parent logic kids are subjected to in these books. I will settle for making a ranked list of the worst Goosebumps parents when I finish all the books. Maybe it’s Stine’s way of subliminally teaching kids to always question authority. Anyway, Say Cheese and Die – Again! turned out to be more or less what I expected, but even low expectations can lead to disappointment.

Score: 1.5


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ERMAHGERD #44: Say Cheese and Die — Again!
© 2023 by Daniel Stalter. All rights reserved.
Photo by Daniel Stalter. Photo collaboration with Dierre Taylor.


Observations & Spoilers

The book opens with Greg Banks, the prodigal son of the marginally better first book, giving a report to his English class about his experience with the evil camera the previous year. Some kids make fun of him. and then his bully of an English teacher gives him an F. It was supposed to be a true story and Greg’s report is clearly fiction. This felt remarkably similar to the opening of Monster Blood II where Evan won’t shut up about his Monster Blood experience. I suppose a kid would want to tell everyone about a weird supernatural experience that happened to them, so I kinda get the compulsion. Mr. Saur tells Greg the only way to make up his grade is to prove that the story is real. He has to get the evil camera back. What could go wrong?


Greg’s friends are all immediately against him doing this, but if he gets a failing grade his parents aren’t going to let him visit his cousins that summer. Nothing could be worse than being the only one of his friends stuck home all summer. So he goes and gets it. Only the Coffman house has been demolished! Greg is poking around the ruins when he meets Jonathan. Jonathan’s father bought the Coffman house and had it torn down. He directs Greg to the dumpster where they threw a bunch of stuff from the house into. Greg dives in and rummages without a thought about asbestos or lead paint, and ends up finding the camera under a dead raccoon that he also touches. It sounds like Greg didn’t need the camera to have significant health issues in this book. Now that could have been a really unexpected Goosebumps twist.


Jonathan immediately decides the camera belongs to him because his Dad owns the house, even though it was literally in the dumpster. Greg tries to make a deal to bring it back to him after his school project, but the camera ends up going off and taking a picture of Jonathan. The picture shows him with a nail on his foot. As you might expect, he then immediately steps on a nail. His dad rushes out and they take him to the hospital, they barely even notice Greg. Greg sneaks away with the camera. The next morning Sheri spots him walking to school with the camera. She gets big mad and tries to snatch it from him. Wanna guess what happens next? In their altercation, Greg accidentally snaps a picture of Sheri. What comes out looks like a negative. Sheri snags the camera and takes a picture of Greg so that they’re stuck in this bullshit together. In the picture, Greg looks really fat.


Mr. Saur ends up being out sick, so Greg can’t even show the camera off. He feels his clothes getting tighter, and he pops both of his bike tires when he jumps on his bike later that day. The next morning, he has gained over 100 pounds and none of his clothes fit. His parents are worried, but they decide he can’t miss school even though Greg can’t even fit in their car. They talk about maybe taking him to a doctor (for which they will need to rent a van to bring him). The lack of concern here almost feels like his parents are gaslighting him because they want him to be bullied. It’s so bizarre and incompetent, I can’t help but think there is a nefarious purpose. Nothing is ever revealed, but I enjoy speculating. It’s more fun than getting mad about contrived plotting. I reserve my anger for books that are almost really good but get ruined by plot twists. This book didn’t ever have a chance of being almost good.


So Greg goes to school. The kids at school react the way you think they would. The sight of him is so jarring that even the bullies are afraid to make fun of him. So Greg’s teacher Mr. Saur takes up the slack. He’s ruthless in making fun of his newly fat student in a way that goes beyond cruel. The only bully I ever had in school was a middle school math teacher, and this reminded me of that. It was an adult in a position of power ruthlessly punching down and landing hits on a vulnerable child. When you couple that with the fat phobia in the underlying premise, this whole scene was just uncomfortable to read. I get that fat phobia was not a widely circulated concept in the 90s, and I don’t think that this book was trying to be purposefully mean to fat people. It was an attempt at humor that bordered on body horror and it fell flat. I didn’t like it.


While Greg was doubling and tripling in size, his friend Sheri was shrinking and withering away. The two of them deliberate over destroying the photos and taking new ones. Then they decide to go to Greg’s brother Terry, who works at a photo store. They ask him to produce a negative of Greg’s picture and to develop Sheri’s picture. It takes a while and they almost lose hope, but it does eventually work. Greg returns to normal and decides to plot revenge. He brings the camera to school again with the intent of snapping a picture of Mr. Saur. Only when she goes to do it, Mr. Saur takes the camera from him and snaps a picture of the whole class. And that’s how it ends; without even giving us a moment of revenge on a shitty teacher. It’s worth noting that the TV episode fixed this particular issue I had. It still wasn’t enough to make any of it satisfying.


Mr. Saur taking a photo of the class with the evil camera made me think of George Carlin’s stand-up bit where he says “If there is a god, may he strike this audience dead!”  In addition to being unsatisfying, the ending also gave us a glimpse into what this book could have been. Rather than a rehash of the first book, Say Cheese and Die – Again! could have been a revenge plot gone wrong. It could have opened with Mr. Saur being particularly cruel, Greg getting the camera and taking his picture as an act of revenge. He could have claimed it was for the yearbook. He could have photographed all of his bullies. And then the book could have been his revenge plot blowing up in his face as karma found it’s way back to him. Mr. Saur gets replaced by an even meaner teacher, one who takes his camera away and locks it on her desk. It could have been a unique narrative worthy of its predecessor. But that’s not the book we got.


RL Stine does not have a strong track record of writing sequels. This goes for his planned trilogies as well as his years-later sequels to popular titles. The Monster Blood books are the clearest example of a steady decline, even though the first book was also pretty bad. The Fear Street Cheerleaders and 99 Fear Street trilogies both start with strong books but then get lost in the weeds with their second and third entries. The Babysitter books have followed a similar trajectory. The Wrong Number 2 is my worst-rated Fear Street book so far. The Haunted Mask II and Return of the Mummy were both OK, but nowhere near as good as their predecessors. The only ones that break this trend are The Fear Street Saga and The Night of the Living Dummy books. All of this is to say; I never go into a sequel expecting much.


There is thankfully no third book, so I am content to let this sleeping dog lie. You can expect this book to show up on my eventual listicle for terrible Goosebumps parenting, but you are otherwise free to forget that you read any of this. That’s what I am choosing to do. 


Score Card

For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each.
I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are:
Concept: the strength of the overall idea
Execution: the mechanics of storytelling
Character: the protagonists, antagonists, and villains
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: subversion and reliance on genre tropes


Concept: 1/2
It was a pretty weak rehash of a cool idea. There was potential there with a teacher revenge story to do something different with the camera, but that did not pan out.

Execution: 1/2
I suppose it was paced well enough. But the climax was boring, and the ending was incredibly frustrating. 

Character: 0/2
Greg was frustrating. Shari was frustrating. Mr Saur was just a dick and we didn’t even get to see him pay for being one. None of the other characters carried any significant weight (n pun intended).

Intent: 1/2
If the intent was to cash in on a sequel to an incredibly popular title, then you could argue this was a success. It did have a few good scares in the way of very problematic body horror; I can’t tell if that’s a good thing.

Originality: 0/2
It was ultimately just more of the same. There was so much more that could have been done with it.


Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, Say Cheese and Die — Again is:
Ranked 32nd of 62 books in the original Goosebumps series.


TV Adaptation – Bullet Review

For every book that was adapted for the Goosebumps TV series, I will watch and do a bullet review.
Say Cheese and Die —  Again!” is Episode 3×18.


•  They couldn’t get Ryan Gosling back for the sequel.

•  A quick IMDB check shows that none of the original cast returned for this one. It’s not entirely surprising, but we did have a nice cast return for The Haunted Mask and The Haunted Mask II. It’s probably because both of those were 2-part Halloween specials. 

•  The opening dream sequence was just a dream. I got excited about the return of Spidy. Not that he was a good character, but because I’m still convinced he was secretly played by System of a Down’s Daron Malakian.

•  I’m still baffled by the production’s decision to make the camera look more like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica than a camera.

•  LOL at the shadow ominously stalking Greg whispering “Say Cheese!”

•  Oof the acting in this one is rougher than any I’ve seen in a while.

•  The CGI is worse than the acting. 

•  OK, I take it back, Seeing Greg in the sunglasses and tophat was fantastic.

•  Man, this story is anti-climatic. I suppose they did the best they could with very weak source material.

•  Mr. Saur was less of a bully in this, but it was nice to see him have his picture taken in the end. It’s just a shame it wasn’t more interesting or clever.



Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #45: Ghost Camp


Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
RL Stine’s The Beast 2


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