And now for comparison’s sake, I present Are You Afraid of the Dark’s version of the Goosebumps episode we covered yesterday, Say Cheese and Die. As I said, these are both just adaptations of the classic Twilight Zone episode, A Most Unusual Camera.
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We’ll speed along here. We open with Betty Anne talking about photos, which of course have something to do with her story. She tosses some flash powder on the fire and begins. Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society, she calls this story…
We meet Matt Dorney, played by Finch of American Pie fame before he started banging people’s mothers. Matt’s a down on his luck nerd, who is constantly bullied. Who bullies him? Why the same kid that played a bully in Say Cheese and Die, and also starred in The Tale of Laughing In the Dark, where he was basically a bully as well.
Its team photo day for the basketball team, which Matt appears to be the equipment manager for. I’m just assuming this, because he’s not in a uniform like everyone else. Matt gets his photo back; however he’s missing from the shot. This prompts Matt to visit the photographer, Mr. Calhoun. Calhoun seems strangely unconcerned that Matt doesn’t appear in the photo and begins to ask him if everyone ignores him, or walks all over him. Calhoun went on to play Spider in Say Cheese and Die, essentially the same role, provider or the cursed camera, but much less crazy, and much better acted here.
Calhoun refuses to give Matt a refund for the pictures, and instead offers him a camera. I’m not sure Matt’s mother will be happy with this arrangement, as she paid good money for those photos. Calhoun tells him that it’s very old and one of a kind, which would prompt a logical person to ask why he’s giving it away for free, but Matt ignores it and gleefully takes the camera.
And so begins our adventure with the camera that predicts doom for the subject of it’s photos. The first victim is Matt’s shirt, which gets ink on it; the second is a vase, which breaks soon after Matt takes a picture of it. Matt, unlike Greg from Say Cheese and Die, is slower to figure out what’s happening, or is just more curious, as he continues to take picture of various things in his house and they all, inevitably, break. Soon Matt has managed to unintentionally destroy most of the breakable things in his house, and kill his goldfish.
After the death of his goldfish, Matt throws the camera away, only to find it in his locker at school the next day. He’s soon accosted by our favorite red haired bully, and Matt, being less moral than Greg from yesterday, decides to take a picture of him for revenge. The bully’s ankle is later crushed under a locker that mysteriously falls on him. If you’re expecting Matt to feel regret you’re going to be disappointed. He is in fact overjoyed the camera works so well and celebrates by assembling a hit list of kid’s who have picked on him.
We get a really good idea of the budding sociopath Matt is, when he gleefully attempts to explain to his sister how the camera works. He ends up inadvertently taking a picture of his sister and has to quickly rescue her from a falling chandelier. That little brush with death is enough to convince her that Matt is telling the truth. Together they look over the photo’s Matt has taken so far, and his sister notices a small smudge on one of the pictures. Upon further review Matt realizes the same smudge appears on all the pictures. He takes a magnifying glass to it and finds that it is actually some sort of gremlin.
Matt decides to visit Calhoun, and finds that he is now incredibly successful. Calhoun is none too thrilled to see Matt, and explains that since he gave him the camera, he’s had nothing but good luck. Calhoun warns him not to allow the camera to destroy his life and explains that the gremlin is what causes all the mayhem. Matt attempts to give the camera back, but Calhoun explains that he can’t, as the camera chooses it’s owner and will always find a way back into their life. Dejected, Matt returns home and accidentally takes a picture of his parents, who are about to go out for the evening. Matt begs them to stay, but they refuse. Inside, Matt shows his sister the picture once it develops.
Matt’s sister takes the camera outside and attempts to destroy it with a bat, only to find the camera sitting on the table in perfect condition when she walks back inside. Matt comes up with the genius idea of setting up the camera to take a picture of itself. The plan works great and the camera disappears, just in time to prevent his parents from being destroyed by a truck. Unfortunately for Matt and his sister, their nightmare isn’t quite over. The Gremlin managed to transport itself into a camcorder they foolishly left out and is now able to cause misfortune immediately, instead of waiting the 5 seconds for the photo to develop. Matt manages to defeat the Gremlin again by repeatedly turning off the TV that the camcorder is hooked up to. I’m not sure why that works, but it works really well and the television blows up.
So there we have it, Are You Afraid of the Dark’s answer to Say Cheese and Die. I much prefer it, as it actually has moments of suspense and some small character developments. While Greg was infinitely more likable than Matt, he never really appeared to be in any danger and fixing the problem the camera caused was quickly solved. I should mention that The Curious Camera, while still obviously influenced by A Most Unusual Camera, is actually blends in some of the Stephen King story “The Sun Dog” which features a camera who’s pictures all contain shots of a vicious dog getting closer and closer. See kids, no one is original these days.