Say Cheese and Die – Again!
Series number: 44
Number of pages: 115
Release date: June 1996
Tagline: Think negative. Real negative.
Did I Read It as a Child?: No
The Story On the Back
Sourball. That’s what Greg calls his English teacher, Mr. Saur. He’s a real grouch. And he just gave Greg a big fat “F” on his oral report. He didn’t believe Greg’s story. About the camera Greg found last summer. About the pictures it took. About the evil things that happened. Poor Greg. He just wanted to prove old Sourball wrong. But now that he’s dug up the camera, bad things are happening. Really bad things. Just like the first time
The Story On the Pages
Say Cheese and Die – Again! is the sequel to the fourth book in the original Goosebumps line-up. It’s been exactly forty books since we last saw what the cursed camera can do, so the stakes have got to be huge this time around for Stine to bring it back!
Oh. Geez. Nope. Greg just gets fat… I waited forty books for this?
Leading up to this point though, is just a clusterfuck of bad decisions from the so-called “level-headed” one of the group. I’m talking about our boy Greg from the first story, which I haven’t talked about yet, but as is the way of the Goosebumps sequel: they’re always worse than the original.
But anyways, Say Cheese and Die – Again! Begins with Greg in English class and he’s been called on to give his report, which is to tell the class a true story and have it be worth 50% of his final grade.
Greg decides to tell the story of the cursed camera he and his friends found last summer. The camera was found in the basement of the Coffman house and if you take pictures with it, the pictures it spits out shows evil and terrible things happening, all of which come true. Greg’s dad almost died in a car crash because of the camera.
But of course his grumpy, grumbling teacher Mr. Saur isn’t going to believe any of this actually happened. Would you? I mean, all Greg had to do was tell a story about his dog or an amusement park he’d been to and he would have passed. Sure, these things actually did happen to him in this universe, but a teacher isn’t going to believe it!
Understandably, Greg gets an F on the report and since it’s worth half his grade, now his grades are going to be too low to get to visit his cousins this coming summer.
Deciding that going to visit cousins is worth the risk of a literal evil camera that almost killed his father, Greg heads back to the Coffman house to grab it again. He finds it and so begins the exact same thing that began last time. Except it’s less interesting and there’s a shit tonne of fat shaming.
One of his best friends, a girl by the name of Shari, tries her damnedest to get Greg to just forget about passing Sourball Saur’s class because it’s not worth how dangerous the camera is. In Say Cheese and Die! Shari was the victim of the evil piece of equipment when Greg took her picture, the picture developed and she wasn’t in it, and then she actually disappeared into the ether for a few days. The girl doesn’t want shit to go down like it did last time.
In the struggle that ensues with Shari trying to get the camera away from Greg, her picture is accidentally taken. It develops as a negative, which they’ve never seen the camera do before. As payback, Shari takes Greg’s picture. This one is just a normal Polaroid picture, though it shows Greg at about four hundred pounds, something that he’s currently not, so the cursed camera is still playing its evil games.
From here on out, Greg starts to put on a tonne of weight while he tries to convince Mr. Saur the camera is evil, but because Mr. Saur is a herpes sore on humanity’s dirty foreskin, all he does is call Greg fat and mock him viciously in front of everyone in class. At one point, he even sends Greg out of the classroom just because he’s fat.
Why hasn’t the principal been brought in to deal with this teacher that’s obviously the worst? He kind of acts like a teacher I had in highschool. A teacher that had been a university professor until he fucked around with some students and was racist to some others. He got kicked out and had to work at a high school to make ends meet. Mr. Saur seems like he was in that situation too. Either that or he’s just a dickwad. Either-or is fine for an assumed backstory.
Anyways, the cursed camera. Turns out Greg isn’t the only one suffering. While he puts on weight at a crazy rate, Shari is losing weight. Seems that the camera has more tricks up its sleeve, though I’m not sure I understand the tricks? If a negative spits out and then a normal picture, the opposite thing shown in the next picture happens to the person in the negative? So if the picture had shown Greg dead, would Shari have lived forever?
The two are growing and shrinking quickly. Soon Greg will be crushed under his own weight like a beached aquatic dinosaur and Shari’s internal organs will just stop functioning because she doesn’t have enough body fat to run them. Before either happens, Greg has an idea.
Hauling himself to the photo developing place, he gets the negative turned into a picture and the picture turned into a negative. Which isn’t how photography works, but whatever, it saves the day!
Greg and Shari are back to normal after a really harrowing experience (being fat is the number one thing to be scared of in life, after all) but Greg isn’t done being an idiot with the camera. Now he’s going to use it for revenge against Mr. Saur.
Not gonna lie, so would I.
Before Greg can snap his picture though, Mr. Saur grabs the camera and snaps a picture of the entire class. The story ends with Greg wondering what the camera is going to show.
And then we never hear from Greg and the gang again, so clearly they die at the end of Say Cheese and Die – Again!: probably horribly. This was all worth visiting cousins during the summer, I’m sure.
Greg is back. Well, not back for you, dear readers, since this sequel rated lower than the first book. So this is your first introduction to Greg. And I’m very sorry for that.
So Greg. He’s a self-proclaimed level-headed kid that just happened to fall into some bad shit in the first book. It’s mostly his own fault, I mean, did he have to steal the cursed camera in the first place? No, no he didn’t. So what we learn about Greg in the first Say Cheese and Die! is that he is kind of sensible and what we learn in Say Cheese and Die – Again! is that he’s not sensible at all because in the face of an English assignment worth half of his grade in which all he has to do is tell a true story, he chooses to tell the story about the cursed camera!
Aside from Greg, the sensible dumb-ass, there are his friends Shari (a girl), Bird (the joker), and Michael (the fat one). That’s literally all you learn about them. You learn more about Greg’s English teacher, Mr. Saur. Or Sourball Saur as he’s known in the story.
This guy is a real dick, and honestly, the scariest thing in this story. He mocks his students relentlessly, gives meaningless grade percentages on things that aren’t even English (how is giving an oral report about something that’s true English related?), and he’s your general loathsome teacher who hates kids so you’re left constantly questioning why he’s a teacher.
If you discount the scary things the camera does (which I suggest you do because it just made Greg fat), Mr. Saur is the main antagonistic force in this story. Which begs the question, why wasn’t this its own story and not a continuation of a story that happened forty books ago? Call it “Wicked Witch of the East Wing English Class” and get on with it!
Spooks and Scares
If you revisit something in a sequel, you better damn well have something interesting and new to say in that sequel. Sadly, Say Cheese and Die – Again! didn’t. The simplest course of action to take with this narrative is having the camera land in someone else’s hands. That runs the risk of being too repetitive though because that person would have to learn all about the cursed camera when we, as an audience that’s probably already read the first book, already have it figured out. Stine isn’t super concerned with keeping continuity between sequels, but he couldn’t just write the same book twice.
Or could he? There’s sixty-two books in this series, something could have slipped through. Something named Slappy… something named Monster Blood too…
But we’re not here for any of the dummy/crazy slime related stories, we’re here for a cursed camera. So if in the sequel it’s too tedious to have a new person find the camera, the next logical step is to put it back in Greg’s hands. So now we don’t have to adjust to a new character, meaning we don’t have to re-learn about the camera’s abilities, but now there’s a double chance of rehashing too much of the story that’s already been told.
And that’s exactly what happens.
A good horror sequel should up the stakes by expanding the story and the characters. Take Hellraiser 2 as a great example of where a sequel can go. The first Hellraiser created the world, giving us everything we needed to know about the Cenobites for that one story. Then Hellraiser 2, which kept the same main protagonist as the first movie, expanded the world that was already created. It opened up the lore, so while Kirsty was bringing the action to a head and bringing her story to a close, the world had been established for anyone to step into.
The world of the cursed camera was established in Say Cheese and Die! forty books before this one. And while Stine tries to bring in a new element to the camera by having it spit out negatives, it just wasn’t enough. If the jump in the scope of the story between Hellraiser and Hellraiser 2 was like going from the first floor of a house to the second floor, between Say Cheese and Die! and Say Cheese and Die – Again! is a single step. Going down instead of up.
Because not only does Say Cheese and Die – Again! not offer any real or lasting originality, or any expansion to the world or lore, it’s not scary. Not even a little.
We already know what the camera does (even if you haven’t read the original it’s pretty much spelled out for you on the back of the book) so there’s no mystery to it. No anxiety either. Sure, we see the ramifications of the camera’s use, but it’s more a frustration of ‘why the hell are you doing this again?’ that’s felt for Greg. We’re not really worried for him so much as mad that he’d willingly do this all again.
And what does the camera do this time around? It makes Greg fat. This is 90% of the evil it reaps. The whole latter half of the book? One jolly old romp through fat shaming. It’s terrible and truly insulting.
Now, here’s what I propose this sequel should have been: have it be the camera’s origin story. I know it would never happen because Goosebumps books have a strict twelve year old protagonist rule that can never be deviated from. But aren’t you interested in learning as much as you can about this object? Hellraiser gave us the Cenobites, Hellraiser 2 gave us the Cenobite origins. Say Cheese and Die! gave us the cursed camera, but Say Cheese and Die – Again! didn’t give us anything more. It’s not even closure for Greg since the story ends with his picture being taken once again.
Like all film from the 1990’s, develop Say Cheese and Die – Again! and chuck it to the bottom of a drawer, never to be looked at again.