The cover illustration featured a skeleton family having a picnic, with a husband flipping burgers on the barbecue, a wife holding a plate of hamburger buns, a kid with a cap in orange t-shirt holding a hotdog, and the other kid with blue sleeveless shirt brushing its hair. The book's tagline is: A picture is worth a thousand screams.
While wondering what to do on a boring summer day, four friends, Greg, Michael, Doug (nicknamed Bird) and Shari decide to investigate the Coffman House, an old, abandoned house that several spooky stories revolve around and is the home of a strange, old man nicknamed "Spidey", because of his spider-like appearance. While searching the home, Greg discovers a strange camera within a hidden compartment in a basement wall. Amused at the idea of having a camera, Greg takes a picture of his friend Michael who is leaning on the stair railing. Suddenly, the railing gives way and Michael falls. Michael is found to have hurt his ankle upon landing. Greg discovers that the picture does not show Michael standing by the railing, but instead falling. While the friends cannot come up with an explanation for the strange photograph, all discussion ceases when footsteps are heard and the four friends flee the house taking the camera with them.
As time goes on Greg takes a picture of his father's new car, but the picture depicts the car totally wrecked. Later, Greg takes a picture of his brother, Terry, who is in his bedroom on his computer. But the picture shows him elsewhere, in a worried state, and in front of a house.The next day, Greg goes to his friend Bird's baseball game; a picture of Bird is taken and the picture depicts him lying on the ground with his neck bent in an unnatural angle. Bird dismisses this idea and even fakes the picture's scene coming true, in an attempt to show Greg and Shari that the camera is simply broken. However, while playing the game he is hit by an oncoming baseball. In fact, he lands in such a way that his neck is bent into the unnatural angle. Now, Greg is convinced that the camera is somehow responsible, but his friends are still unwilling to believe these ideas. It is at this point that Terry's picture comes true, as he comes up and claims that their father was in an accident and the car is totally wrecked.
Greg then has a nightmare of taking a picture of his family during a backyard barbecue, but is horrified to see them as skeletons.
Shari, still skeptical of the camera's powers, has Greg bring the camera to her birthday party and insists that he takes her picture. Greg reluctantly agrees but finds that when the picture develops, only the background has come out and Shari is nowhere to be seen. Not long afterwards, Shari disappears.
In the days that follow, Greg's picture is taken and he sees that he and Shari are panicked by a shadow that comes over them. Greg is worried, yet hopeful, when he sees this picture. Because at this point, Shari is still missing but the picture clearly shows Shari.
Shari remains missing for days, until Greg tears up the picture. Shari then returns as suddenly and mysteriously as she disappeared. She apparently has no memory of where she went.
While talking to Greg about her disappearance, the picture of the two being panicked by a shadow over them comes true when Spidey appears before them. He chases them for a while, until a neighbor threatens to call the police on him. They finally are safe.Finally, deciding that the camera is too dangerous to be kept, Greg and Shari decide to return it to its hiding place in Spidey's home- Bird and Michael will have nothing more to do with it. However, Spidey catches the children on their way out and reveals the camera’s origin: Spidey turns out to be a mad scientist, named Dr. Fritz Fredericks, and his lab partner had created the camera. However, Spidey, being greedy, decided to steal the camera and market it as his own invention. But his partner was evil- not only a scientist, but a master of the dark arts, and he decided that if he could not profit from the camera, no-one would. He put a curse on the camera making it show bleak future events which would then occur and it was impossible to break, meaning that the camera would survive till the end of the world. Spidey says that the camera caused the deaths of people he loved. Spidey had spent most of his life trying to keep the camera from being discovered and had sacrificed all he held dear to do so, but now that Shari and Greg know of it, he is afraid that they will blab, and so resolves to keep them imprisoned in his home forever. However, during a struggle with Greg and Shari, his picture is (accidentally) taken with the camera and he dies of fright. The picture depicts this very event occurring. With the camera returned to its hiding place, Shari and Greg escape the building, send the police an anonymous tip about Spider's body in the house, and believe it to be over.
At the end of the story two bullies, Joey Ferris and Mickey Ward, who had previously shown interest in the camera, are shown to have found the camera and taken a picture with it. The story ends with the boys waiting to see what their photograph shows.
- R.L. Stine got the plot for this book and television episode from Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone television episode, A Most Unusual Camera. R.L. Stine was a big fan of the show and much of his work was inspired by Serling.
- The plot also resembles the Are You Afraid of the Dark? television episode, The Tale of the Curious Camera. In fact, Richard Macmillan, the actor who played Spidey, was in that television episode as well, as the initial owner of the strange camera. Also appearing in that episode as a teenage bully was a young actor named Christian Tessier, who played Mickey Ward, one of the two bullies in Say Cheese and Die!.
- The actor who played Greg Banks in Say Cheese and Die! was a young Ryan Gosling. Also look for a young Scott Speedman in a cameo as a policeman investigating Shari's disappearance.
- Richard Macmillan also appeared as Mr. Blankenship in the Season 3 episode "Teacher's Pet".
There are several differences between the book and the television adaptation. Here are the primary ones (spoiler alert):
1) The book is set in a small town called Pitts Landing, during the summer. The television adaptation resets it in some unnamed city during the autumn.
2) In the book, Greg Banks first finds the camera in a compartment hidden in the wall of the basement of a reputed haunted house he and his friends are exploring. In the tv version, he still finds it in a hidden compartment, but in the wall of the basement of an abandoned factory building.
3) Michael is dropped from the television version, and instead it is Bird who becomes the camera's first victim, falling through the stairway railing (although he gets off with only mild bruises instead of a sprained ankle, in order for him and his friends to run away from Spidey a moment later). Subsequently, the later scene of Bird's picture being taken at a baseball game with the camera, and the accident that follows, is omitted, and Terry announcing the car getting wrecked instead occurs at the part where Greg snaps Shari's picture.
4) The camera in the original book is described as an ordinary looking camera, except that it was much heavier. In the television version, it looks like a cross between a toaster and some kind of space alien's weapon.
5) Greg only snaps four pictures with the camera in the tv version (if you count his dream, which in the book is only discussed, never seen). The first time occurs when he snaps Bird's picture leading to his friend's fall off the stairs, the second when he snaps a picture of his dad's new car, the third in his dream (of his family at a barbeque, with their image coming out as skeletons), and the fourth when he snaps Shari's picture, leading to her disappearance.
6) Greg and Shari are depicted as even more brave than their book counterparts. In the book, when Greg makes up his mind to take the camera to where he found it, Shari has already returned; in the television adaptation, she is still missing, and he makes up his mind to take the camera back because he thinks Spidey has kidnapped her, and is holding her hostage. In the book, Greg basically ropes Shari into accompanying him on his mission; in the tv version, Shari voluntarily goes with him. Also, in the tv version, Greg not only resists Spidey's attack, he actually shoves the adult off, which he doesn't do in the book; also, Shari in the tv version snaps Spidey's picture on purpose, where in the book it was an accident.
7) Spidey's true name is never revealed in the television version, and also he claims to be the sole inventor of the camera during his confrontation with Greg and Shari (but never explains how it acquired its strange powers).
8) The ending of the television episode is different. Instead of dying of fright, Spidey gets trapped inside his own camera after his picture was taken. When Joey and Mickey find the camera, Spidey gets released.
Television Episode Trivia
- Goof: When Greg and Bird spot Joey and Mickey walking towards them from across the street, Greg says Mickey's last name is "Knotts". However, in the credit sequence, Mickey's name has been changed to "Ward", as in the book.
- When Mr. Banks is in the hospital after the car accident, his cast reads, "You crack me up - Terry".
- This television episode was released on DVD along with Say Cheese and Die - Again!
- The theme tune in this television episode is played in a higher key and has a different atmosphere to it than the regular theme. The same occurs in the previous television episode.