The cover illustration features 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 hot dog, and the other kid with blue sleeveless shirt brushing its hair. The book's tagline is: One picture is worth a thousand screams.
While wondering what to do on a boring summer day, four friends named Gregory, Michael, Doug (nicknamed Bird) and Shari decide to investigate the Coffman House, an old, abandoned house around which revolve several spooky and freaky stories that it is the home of a strange, old man nicknamed "Spidey", because of his spider-like appearance. While searching the home, Gregory discovers a strange camera within a hidden compartment in a basement wall. Amused at the idea of having a camera, Gregory 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. Gregory discovers that the picture does not show Michael standing by the railing at all, 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 Gregory takes a picture of his father's new car, but the picture depicts the car totally wrecked. Later, Gregory takes a picture of his brother named 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, Gregory goes to his friend Bird's baseball game; a picture of Doug is taken and the picture depicts him lying on the ground with his neck bent in an unnatural angle. Doug dismisses this idea and even fakes the picture's scene coming true, in an attempt to show Gregory 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, Gregory 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.
Gregory 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 Gregory bring the camera to her birthday party and insists that he takes her picture. Gregory 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, Gregory's picture is taken and he sees that he and Shari are panicked by a shadow that comes over them. Gregory 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 Gregory 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, Gregory and Shari decide to return it to its hiding place in Spidey's home- Doug 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 Gregory 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 Gregory 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 Gregory 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 named 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.
Cover Art Gallery
- 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.
- In the re-issue of Say Cheese and Die, a bonus section called 'Fright Gallery' contains a bio on the camera, its origins, special powers and weaknesses, as well as its 'Splat Stats', which are as follows: Strength 8/10 Intelligence: 3/10 Speed: 2/10 Attack Skills: 7/10 Humor: 1/10 Evil: 10/10
- Joey and Mickey are never heard from again, and their status is left unknown in the sequel. Their picture surprisingly is also nowhere to be found, although it's likely they took the picture with them, and it was gruesome and nasty.