August 30, 2011

#4 Say Cheese and Die

Judging a Book By Its Cover
Here we go, the Goosebumps book with what is probably my favorite title ever. It evokes both humor and terror! That cover really backs up the concept. A bunch of skeletons having a barbeque really highlights the fun horror can have. Of course being a Goosebumps book none of this is really scary, but that's sort of the point. This cover is clearly trying to have fun with the concept of fright, which is what I really think the Goosebumps books were all about. It's all summed up by the front caption which reads, "One picture is worth a thousand screams." It's actually pretty clever as far as these things go!

So this book is about some kid that finds a camera, but when he takes pictures they are all wrong. For example if he took a picture of you, the picture would have a black eye and you'd be like, "hey, I don't have a black e-" Then a hobo would have come out of nowhere and hit you in the eye freaking you right the heck out. Contrary to the cover I don't believe the book details some sort of barbeque apocalypse but instead some more subtle terror, like after several pictures that detail minor accidents that later come true a picture is taken where the person it is of isn't in it at all so they all freak out and think something terrible is going to happen to that person. Will something terrible happen? Lets find out!

Getting Goosebumps
The book kicks off with a group of kids complaining about the city they live in. "Pitts Landing is the pits," they say. Already it's obvious these aren't the most clever kids in the world. They debate about things to do to cure their boredom. There is Doug who is nicknamed Bird oh so creatively because he looks like a bird. Also Michael who tells shitty jokes. And Greg who is the main character and RL Stine a middle aged man has to awkwardly write text proclaiming him to be an attractive teen male. Finally there is Shari whose only discernible trait thus far is that she is female.One suggests they go to the comic book shop and get the new X-Force Comic. I'm pretty sure it's a real life comic, some sub-group of the X-Men. I'm wondering if Stine knew that or just made a random name that could be a comic book.

Anyway, instead of good wholesome comics they end up going to "The Coffman House." If this was a terrible movie, lightning would have struck exactly as I said that. The Coffman House is your typical spooky abandoned house. It has stories of haunting and the supernatural. As Stine puts it, "Most likely none of them were true." So it's pretty obvious something supernatural is in fact going on there. Though the spookiest thing we hear about is that a weird lanky guy who dresses in black called "Spidey" hangs out there.

They explore this place and Bird acts like he is in serious trouble. Turns out he was just playing a joke, because he's a total asshole. They bring up the boy who cried wolf, but Bird just continues being a smug asshole.

Then it happens. Greg, who just so happens to be very interested in cameras, finds a camera in a secret compartment in the basement. Stine goes through great efforts to explain that Greg feels like he shouldn't take this camera. Not because of moral reasons mind you, but simply because he feels like something bad may happen. Some odd curse, omen, or what have you. Whoever hid this away, obviously did it for a reason... but not because he didn't want it stolen, what are you, crazy?

So the camera thief goes ahead and takes a picture of Michael. The camera seems to be some sort of Polaroid dealy where it spits out the photo and you have to wait a bit for it to develop. Shortly after the picture taking, the railing Michael was leaning against cracked and he fell, messing up his ankle. Naturally this is when they hear footsteps upstairs. The escape via a back way out, carrying the gimpy Michael. Immediately when they get outside since there is no more tension or drama Michael's leg inexplicably is all better. What about that picture they took? It showed him mid-fall even though they took it BEFORE he fell, ooooooo!

Before they can ponder that too much Greg has to hurry home with his stolen goods. He notices his dad's brand new Ford Taurus station wagon which he admires waaaay too much for what a run of the mill vehicle it is. You'd think it was a Lamborghini or something.Of course he's gotta take a picture of it! How'd it turn out? Crystal clear? Any bad reflections, or over-saturation? Is the car in the picture completely wrecked even though in real life the car is fine? That last one? I bet dad really wants to go on a family drive now? He does? How's that gonna turn out? Well they ALMOST get completely flattened by a truck, but manage to swerve at the last minute. There, nothing to be afraid of about that spooky cursed stolen camera after all!

This guy sure is out of focus!
Now it's time to take a picture of Greg's older brother Terry in his room. He makes a goofy face of course. The camera however goes through its evil built in photoshopping techniques to make the picture of Terry looking totally horrified outdoors. What a wacky camera! It must be broken! Seriously that is his rationale for this. The camera is broken. I know Kodak's # customer complaint is that their cameras seem to predict horrible futures for people. It's right on top of the FAQ on their webpage. Later they take a picture of Bird at a baseball game that shows him sprawled out unconscious on the ground. Yup! It's broken alright! Bird says, "it's out of focus." I know I always confuse "knocked unconscious," with "blurry."

Well Greg and Shari try for awhile to pry the camera open and see how its evilness works. The camera however can't be opened. Then they notice bird is actually laying on the ground unconscious now! Actually, he was just faking it because I've already stated, he's a huge asshole. I hope he gets knocked out for real soon! Oh wait, he does? Awesome! Bastard deserves it. And right after he gets knocked out by a line drive for real, Greg's brother shows up looking terrified, just like in the picture! He informs them that their dad was in a horrible car accident. Man, when this evil camera rains, it pours!

Well they visit dad in the hospital and there are actually some parts that are pretty well written, describing how Greg can't focus. His disconnect from the reality of the moment. All he sees are colors blurring together. I was actually kind of surprised by some unique and well done description. Kudos Mr. Stine! Anyway it turns out dad just broke a crapton of bones but is otherwise just fine. The evil camera is obviously going to have to try harder! It's going to have the opportunity too...

Next up is Shari's birthday. She wants Greg to bring his camera to take pictures of everyone because horrible accident make for great parties. She is unreasonably intent on Greg using the camera given that she knows all the events that have transpired. I mean, she knows the pictures "turn out weird." And that's the whole reason she wants him to bring the camera... Never mind that all the pictures have corresponded to real life horrifying real life events! Begrudgingly he takes a picture of her, but when it developed she's not in it. He tries again and the same results. They decide to act like reasonable young teens and go into the woods to play truth or dare. When they come back out Shari is missing. It's almost like she... vanished due to an evil camera! The police show up and Greg sorta tells the police about the evil camera but for some reason the cop just doesn't take it seriously.

I assume they'll be bullies in the next book
Greg is as you imagine pretty shook up from all these occurrences. He slowly makes his way back home from Shari's. He comes home to a completely torn up room. Everyone is gone visiting his dad, who could have done this... Oh yeah, SPIDEY! That dark drifter dude they haven't brought up in awhile. He must want his evil camera back. He discusses this with his friends the next day and they argue with him because returning stolen property is totally unreasonable! The friends want to play with the evil camera! They scuffle and accidentally a picture gets taken. Just then a pair of older teenage goons show up wearing heavy metal t-shirts. Just like in the last book... but these are different heavy metal hooligans. Apparently in RL Stine's world all bullies love Metallica. Luckily these head banging bullies are also lazy and don't chase them for the camera. Oh yeah, and what about that accidental picture of Greg? Well Shari (who is still otherwise missing) is in it and they booth look terrified...

Greg laments ever taking this camera. It is almost bordering on a morality tale at this point, and in a fit of anguish he rips up the last few snapshots he took. A little while later Shari calls and explains that she felt like she had disappeared for a few days and had no recollection of what had transpired, like she just vanished for awhile... Did it have anything to do with the fact he ripped up the pictures? Mayyyyybe...

Now Greg is positive the only thing to do is return the camera to the creepy old house Spidey stays at. I remind you, this isn't because of any remorse of the theft, but purely because he doesn't want bad things to keep happening. Besides the camera's "bad luck" there is the fact that Spidey tore up his bedroom. So when they see Spidey come up to them at the baseball field do they give it back to him? Nope, they run the heck away. He follows them for a bit until a neighbor bumps into them and asks if the creepy guy is chasing them. Spidey decides it would be wise to go hide in the shadows.

So later on the kids go to the spooky house to return the camera to the guy they just saw chasing them for the camera they had that they wanted to return to him... Right. So they go sneak into the creepy old house he's squatting at, and what do'ya know, Spidey shows up! This is where the origins of the camera are explained.... Kinda. Turns out Spidey was a scientist and his friend invented this camera. He stole it to make money off of it, and pointed out the folly of his greed. His friend as it turns out was even more evil than he was. He was into the "dark arts" and cursed the camera! You know how the aborigines supposedly think cameras steal your soul? This camera actually does! And now that the kids have returned it and he told them all about it they can never leave because they know too much. He could have, ya know... not told them anything and just skipped town... but no instead the creepy drifter who has been spotted chasing children is going to get rid of them. Why would police ever suspect him? ... Because he is a creepy drifter that has been spotted chasing them? Ludicrous!

There is a struggle to get free and grab the camera. They manage to flash a picture of... something, and make their way upstairs. Once they get up they realize he wasn't following. He was... dead! I was right, this IS a morality tale! The kids are guilty of breaking and entering (twice, theft, murder, and everything turns out a-ok! They even lie to the cops, telling them Spidey was dead when they got there and they just went into the house to get out of the rain. Kids could learn so much from this book...

Anyway, in the final moments of the book adding the little twist, or sequel setup Stine usually does, the heavy metal douche bags have found the camera and take a picture of themselves. Who knows what will develop!

What do I think?

Man, where do I begin. The book's premise was interesting. Rather than a supernatural monster or ghoul of some sort it was interesting having the "cursed" inanimate object. In this book I noticed less unknown hands grabbing shoulders from behind, and screams of terror that come out instead as silence. Granted there was a fair deal of people faking incidents to scare people which is common in these books. Overall it felt like a pretty unique entry though.

But then there is the "digging deeper." This is the first book I really felt like I could try and find a message beyond the general story. I joked about it while explaining the storyline but I'll talk about it more now. It seemed like at times it was really pointing at being a morality tail. Greg knew he shouldn't take the camera, and he knew he had to return it... But why? It wasn't any sense of decency. It wasn't because it was "wrong" to take it. It's the camera that was evil, and not the fact that he stole it. I am not sure that I really want Goosebumps to tell moral tales, but if you are going to do it, do it right.

Also of note, is the ending. I have notice a trend in the last couple books to just sort of quickly reveal something and wrap up the book. I am not sure anyone even needed to know where the camera came from or why it was cursed. I think the halfassed explanation kind of ruined it. Actually I was kind of hoping Spidey turned out to be a nice guy, like the creepy shoveling neighbor in Home Alone.

Ultimately however, it was a fairly unique and decent entry to the series. In a series of 60 some books, an interesting premise is sometimes enough to make a book stand out a bit.

Rating: 2 1/2 Haunted Cameras out of 5

Up Next!
Book 5 Curse of the Mummy's Tomb. I remember one of the mummy books being one of my favorite Goosebumps books but I don't remember if it was the original or a sequel. I seem to think it might have been Return of the Mummy that was my favorite so I am interested in straightening this out!

Also, I'd like to mention that I think my next entry is going to be shorter. The way I do things now is I have my laptop up while I read and I take notes and flesh out a big entry at the end. I think the next time I'm going to just read through the book and sum up from memory. It will go quicker in both the reading and writing, and I think may wield better results. I feel like so far my entries may be getting a bit "tl;dr"-inducing. If you're a reader (and I do have one bon a fide follower right now, yay!) feel free to let me know what you think. Check back soon for the next book!

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