Title: Goosebumps #4: Say Cheese and Die
Rating: * *
Say Cheese and Die is certainly creepy, but it suffers from some weak writing choices. In this story, Greg and his friends find a mysterious camera hidden in an abandoned home. Greg figures out pretty quickly that the camera takes photos of horrible future events, but the rest of his friends refuse to believe him and want to use the camera at a party. When one of their closest friends disappears after her photo is taken, Greg tries to take the camera back to its hiding place. There he is cornered by the man who has been guarding the camera for years. In a fight to escape, the camera accidentally goes off and takes a photo of the man, resulting in him dying in fear over what it would show. Greg stashes the camera back in its hiding place, but the book ends with two new kids finding the evil device.
The characters in this novel are dumb as empty film canisters, and the story itself is rather silly when you think about it. However, as a children’s horror book, as long as your suspension of disbelief is high, it can offer the reader a fair number of chills and gasps. The fact that terrible futures in the photos often did not happen instantaneously added to the suspense, though most of the time I was distracted by the desire to throttle the kids for all being so thoughtless.
Title: Goosebumps #5: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb
Rating: * *
Gabe and Sari are the luckiest twelve year olds alive when their Uncle Ben decides to take them into an Egyptian pyramid dig. However, the archaeology project is plagued with problems that may be related to an ancient curse placed on the burial site. While Uncle Ben is trying to figure out exactly what is going on, Gabe gets separated from his uncle and Sari, and stumbles into a mummy making chamber that has been in use more recently than 4000 years ago. As it turns out, one of the men working the dig is actually a member of an ancient group of people who promised to protect this tomb, and this man tries to mummify Gabe and his family in punishment for disturbing the sanctity of the priestess’ chambers. However, Gabe just so happens to have a mummy hand that can summon mummies, and he calls upon its power so that he and his family can escape in the nick of time!
One thing I really have to commend this book for was the fact that it seems as if all the protagonists are racialised (Gabe and his family are originally from Egypt, and his uncle has a Middle Eastern name). Normally, I would have been incredibly uncomfortable to read about a bunch of white, American researchers getting threatened by traditionalist Arabic people, but in this case it was the slightly less problematic combination of “modern” Arabic people from the US being bothered by traditionalists from the old country. Still an issue, but not nearly as terrible as it could have been, and it is certainly pretty awesome to see that within the first five books of the series, R.L. Stine was diversifying his characters.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t actually make all that much sense. Gabe saves the day with a magical artefact that he bought at an American garage sale, and no one, including Uncle Ben the scientist, seems to have a problem with this. This was a text book deux ex machina ending, and readers didn’t even get a twist to end the story with!
Title: Goosebumps #6: Let’s Get Invisible
Rating: * *
In Let’s Get Invisible, Max and his friends discover a creepy, magic mirror that can turn you invisible. However, the longer you stay invisible, the colder you feel, and the farther away from reality you seem to get. When Max suggests they stop after realising that playing with the mirror might actually get them all hurt, his friends protest and refuse. After a couple of particularly long periods of invisibility, some of them come back different. Max can’t quite put his finger on it, but his friends are no longer really his friends. This becomes blatantly apparent when they force him to go invisible and make him stay that way for as long as possible. Soon he finds himself transported into the mirror where his mirror double attempts to switch places with him forever!
Like Say Cheese and Die, Let’s Get Invisible is scary in the sense that the mirror represents this strange, evil, malevolent force, but the characters themselves aren’t particularly bright. While kids often respond to risk differently from adults, it feels as if this particular group of kids have a risk threshold that could earn them a Darwin award. As cool as invisibility is, I don’t think I would risk the strange, chilling, sleepy effects of the mirror. On the other hand, I am an adult, and have always been pretty risk adverse, even as a child. So despite the fact that these kids were acting rather silly, the mirror is a very frightening antagonist.