TV Recap: “Goosebumps” Episode 1 – “Say Cheese and Die!”

30 years after R.L. Stine published the first Goosebumps book, the franchise gets a reboot for both the original generation of fans like me and a new generation of page-turners. The premiere episode of this new 10-part series, now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu, is inspired by the memorable entry Say Cheese and Die!. Unlike the original TV series from the 90s, which was an anthology series of mini-movies based on each book, this revival has a linear story to tell. You’ve got to pay close attention, which is why my episode recaps might come in handy. And now, dear reader, proceed if you dare.

(Disney/David Astorga)

(Disney/David Astorga)

Episode 1: “Say Cheese and Die!” – Written by Rob Letterman and Nicholas Stoller

The series starts with a flashback to 1993. A boy named Harold Biddle (Ben Cockell) leaves Port Lawrence High School and arrives home alone. He walks past a cuckoo clock that chimes as he heads to his basement, which seems to be his space. After feeding worms to a pet in a fish tank, he picks up a Polaroid camera and takes pictures of a white mask. He opens up a scrapbook that contains journal entries, drawings, and photos he’s taken. The sun sets as he writes about that day. The photo with that journal entry is labeled “Sarah.”

The doorbell rings. Harold answers the door, and nobody is outside. He closes the door and is on his way back to the basement when the doorbell rings again. This time, he steps outside and looks around. What he doesn’t see is that a side door to his house is hinged open. He goes back inside, and strange things begin to happen. Books fly off the shelf. A lamp knocks over. The chandelier crashes. And then the power goes out. Harold stumbles in the dark for a candle and lights it. As he heads back toward the basement door, the cuckoo clock chimes, and it startles him. He quickly steps behind the door to the basement and pulls the latch to lock it. But he sees the lock begin to jigger as unseen hands bang on the door. Harold is so scared that he falls backward down the stairs. The lit candle lands on the rug, which instantly goes up in flames. The desk catches fire. The mask burns. The camera burns. The scrapbook burns. From outside the home, we see a plume of flames erupt from a basement window. In the flame, we see a ghostly face scream.

In the present, best friends Isaiah (Zack Morris) and James (Miles McKenna) arrive at the Harbor Stop, a diner on the Port Lawrence coast. Nora (Rachael Harris) informs the teenagers that her credit card reader is broken. Since they don’t have cash, she hands them a few packets of saltines on the house. As they leave, Nora’s son Lucas (Will Price) skateboards off the roof and crashes onto the pavement with a bleeding upper lip.

The school day starts with a pep rally, with James serving as the mascot while Isaiah runs out as the football team’s MVP.  He hypes up the crowd while bragging that this is going to be the team’s year for victory. In the crowd is Margot (Isa Briones), who couldn’t care less, burying her face in a book. Her dad, Colin (Rob Huebel), the school guidance counselor, tries to get her to participate, but she tells him she lacks school spirit. When Colin steps away, Lucas takes his place, seemingly trying to flirt with her. As Isaiah wraps up his speech, a girl assigned to document the football team, Isabella (Ana Yi Puig), prays that he doesn’t drop her expensive microphone. He does. Isaiah’s girlfriend, Allison (Rhiannon Payne), rushes up to kiss him. As he walks away with Allison on his arm, Isaiah calls Isabella “Susan.”

In the hallway, Isaiah and James are still rushing from the adrenaline of the pep rally when James stops. The boy he has a crush on, Sam (Aiden Howard), is just a few feet away at his locker. James asks Isaiah to be cool as he asks his crush, “What’s up?” When Sam looks, Isaiah chimes in with a “Sup?” James gets frustrated with Isaiah, saying he just killed what he was setting up. Allison joins them, confused as to why James hasn’t just asked Sam out yet, but she is distracted by an alert on her phone. She posted a video invite to a party, and somebody reposted it with pig squalls added. She’s unable to understand why anyone at the school would troll her since she’s nice to everybody. James asks if Sam was invited to the party.

Colin steps out of his office and asks to speak to Isaiah. Inside, he tells James that he’s being put on academic probation and won’t be able to play in the big game on Friday, the one he just hyped up at the pep rally. Isaiah is frustrated, as college scouts are going to be at the game. There is a silver lining, though. If Isaiah can get an A on his history test tomorrow, he will be allowed to play. It’s news to Isaiah that there’s even a test tomorrow.

A red car pulls up to the old Biddle house. Nathan Bratt (Justin Long) gets out and goes inside. It looks exactly as it did in the 1993 flashback. Nathan interrupts a man working under the fireplace, who introduces himself as Ben Howard (Leonard Roberts). Ben apologizes for how long it’s taking to repair everything, but Nathan says this is an upgrade for him. He inherited the house as the closest living relative of the Biddle family. A cuckoo clock draws Nathan’s attention to a door, and he asks Ben what’s through it. “Basement,” Ben responds. “You heard what happened down there?” Nathan explains that his lawyer filled him in. He suspects that Harold’s parents killed him since they disappeared after their son died. The door is stuck and Ben recommends that they just wall it off, since it will need a lot of work to be brought up to code. But Nathan insists on at least getting a look inside. He grabs a crowbar and tries to pry it open, but ends up cutting his hand. Blood drips on the floor. Ben offers to take Nathan to the hospital. As they walk away, we see the splash of blood begin to move towards the door. It crawls up and goes through a grate. A lock clicks, and the door swings open.

Isaiah arrives home to find his parents, Ben and Laura (Lucia Walters), fighting about paying for college tuition if he doesn’t get a scholarship. They stop fighting when they realize their son is home. “Feeling good about Friday?,” Ben asks. “Yeah, I’m feeling great,” Isaiah lies. He goes to the backyard and sits pensively, tossing a football. His neighbor, Margot, walks over and begins to speak to him in a secret language they invented as kids. She tells Isaiah she could hear his parents fighting from her house. “Football is all I got,” he laments. He tells her about being put on academic suspension. He begs her to help him pass the test. She thinks he means to help him study, but he clarifies that he wants to cheat on her test. “Just this once,” she reluctantly agrees.

Ms. Dowling (Terry O’Sullivan) isn’t paying much attention to the students taking their history tests. Isaiah sits behind Margot, and when he coughs, she leans so he can see her scantron sheet. After class, she promises Isaiah that they both got an A. He thanks her, and she’s about to ask him something when Allison interrupts, looking annoyed that Isaiah is talking to Margot. She tells her boyfriend that the online troll sent her party invite to her parents, and she won’t be able to have it now. Isaiah smiles, saying she just needs a new venue. As they walk away, we see Isabella on her phone by the lockers behind them.

After the sun sets, Isaiah, James, and Allison arrive at the old Biddle House. Isaiah’s dad always uses the same code on his lock boxes, and he quickly produces a key to the old home. He knows the new owner doesn’t move in until tomorrow, so they will be free to have a Halloween party there without interruption. They change into their costumes, with Allison as The Bride from Kill Bill and James as a “Sexy Cat” (although he looks like Cat Noir without the mask). Isaiah puts on a blond wig and takes off his shirt, but neither Allison nor James is able to guess who he is (Thor), so he chooses to go sans costume.

As they wait for the party to start, Allison wonders if the house is really haunted. “Then this is the perfect party house on Halloween,” Isaiah grins. Just then, the power goes out, and the teens use the flashlight on their phones to search for the breaker. The basement door creaks open, and Isaiah thinks the breaker is likely down there. Allison and James try to talk him out of going down there as Margot enters. She was told the party starts at 8:00, but Allison points out that that really means 9:00 because nobody shows up on time to a party. Allison is upset that Margot is even there, and even more angry when Margot offers to go downstairs with Isaiah. He ends up going downstairs alone. Down there, he’s startled by a creepy mask on a desk. He sees the Polaroid camera and picks it up. The door at the top of the stairs suddenly slams shut on its own. Allison, James, and Margot try to pull it open, but it won’t budge until Isaiah gets to the top of the stairs. It then opens so quickly that they all fall back. James hits his head on the cuckoo clock. “Say cheese,” Isaiah shouts as he takes a photo of his friends. The power comes back on all by itself, with Isaiah revealing that the fuse box wasn’t downstairs.

The front of the house is soon swarming with cars and teenagers arriving. Lucas has fake stitches on his head for his costume, prompting Margot to ask what he’s supposed to be. “A guy with brain damage, he tells her.” She says she’s supposed to be a spy. Lucas shows her a red Solo cup full of live worms, which he tells her he found in the kitchen. Margot tells him she’s mad she came as she watches Isaiah and Allison have a fight.

“What could she possibly have helped you with that I couldn’t?”, Allison asks Isaiah in annoyance. He hasn’t told her that he cheated on the test. As Allison storms off, Margot goes to Isaiah to ask why he didn’t tell his girlfriend she was coming to the party. He says it was easier just to avoid the situation. Margot is upset by this, accusing Isaiah of pitting her and Allison against each other and complaining that he can only talk to her when his girlfriend isn’t around. “I’m not the girl that you cheat with,” she says. “Not on tests and not at parties.” As Margot walks away, Lucas approaches Isaiah and asks if he wants to see him eat a worm. He says sure, but before Lucas can do it, the lights flip on. Mr. Bratt stands in the doorway and announces that he’s the house's owner, threatening to call the cops if everyone doesn’t leave right now.

As everyone rushes out, Allison heads into the woods with her phone acting as a flashlight. Isaiah comes out of the house looking for her, unable to reach her on her phone. As Allison goes deeper into the woods, she sees the silhouette of a boy and asks him if he knows how to get back to the road. He is still and silent. Creeper out, Allison turns around to head back the way she came, but now the boy is on the other side of her. He begins to move towards her quickly, and she screams. He’s now blocking her path, and she looks into his eyes (It’s Harold!). His eyes catch fire, and soon his whole body goes up in flames. She falls backward into a ditch. Thankfully, Isaiah finds her right away.

The next day at school, Isaiah and James sit in the cafeteria. “You missed all the excitement,” Isaiah tells his friend, asking where he disappeared to. “Sam and I generated some excitement of our own,” James shares. Mr. Bratt walks into the cafeteria and asks for Isaiah Howard. James freaks out and announces that he’s with him, stepping away. Mr. Bratt approaches Isaiah’s table and sets his backpack down on it. “I am your new English teacher,” Mr. Bratt explains. “Let’s just pretend this never happened.” He tells Isaiah they can have a fresh start when he begins teaching but asks for his help in spreading the word that his home is no longer vacant for parties. Isaiah reaches into his backpack and pulls out the key to the house he got from his father’s lockbox, giving it back to Mr. Bratt. Left alone, he pulls out the Polaroid pictures he took last night. But instead of seeing his friends as they were in the moment he took the pictures, he sees one of Allison on the ground in the woods. The one of Margot shows her choking near a vending machine.

At that very moment, Margot is in an empty school hallway at a vending machine. She presses the buttons for a bar but gets distracted when she sees the silhouette of a boy in the hallway standing perfectly still. When her eyes aren’t on the buttons, they select a different bar. She grabs it without looking and takes a bite. As the school bell rings, students pour into the halls. Margot chokes. Isaiah rushes to her and sees the bar in her hands. It contains nuts, and Margot has a nut allergy. He reaches into her bag, pulls out her EpiPen, and administers the medication. Her dad is soon by her side with the school nurse. Isaiah steps back and pulls out the photo. It’s of the scene he’s looking at right now!

James is leaving the Harbor Stop in his Jeep when Isaiah comes running up the road toward him. He swerves away and brushes against a lane divider. Isaiah tries to show James the photos, but now they’ve both gone blank. Isaiah freaks out, saying the camera is haunted. But James doesn’t believe any of it, saying, “There’s no such thing as a cursed camera.” He’s upset about the dent in his Jeep as he gets back in and drives away. Isaiah looks down at the photos, and now there’s an image again. This time, it’s of himself, appearing to be dead on the football field!

Isaiah rushes to Margot’s house and finds her outside. She thanks him for saving her life and is confused about how she selected the wrong bar. He shows her the Polaroid photo, but once again, it’s blank. “If I play in tomorrow night’s game, I’m going to be this thing’s next victim,” he tells her, lamenting that if he doesn’t play, he won’t have a chance at a scholarship. He asks Margot for her help and she gets frustrated. “I thought you were actually coming to check up on me,” she says, adding that he makes everything about him. “You’re going to have to solve this one on your own.”

“You can’t hurt me if you don’t exist,” Isaiah says to the Polaroid camera. He takes it into his dad’s shed, puts on safety goggles, and breaks it apart with a hammer. He then douses it in lighter fluid and sets it on fire. He adds the photos to the blaze.

It’s raining as the football game begins. But Isaiah seems to be leading his team to victory when halftime rolls around. In the locker room, Isaiah speaks to keep his team motivated. He goes to his locker for something, and suddenly his world spins. The Polaroid camera is there! He freaks out as his teammates drag him back to the field. He begs Coach Rifken (Gardiner Millar) to take him out of the game, but he doesn’t listen. In a huddle, the team asks Isaiah for the play. He orders them just to protect him, and they get confused. When the referee blows the whistle, Isaiah looks over and sees the face of Harold in his place. As he begins to run, all of the players appear to be Harold to him. And all of them have fire in their eyes.

Everyone in the crowd sees a normal game. Everyone except Nora, who appears to be able to see the ghostly apparitions that are haunting Isaiah. She sees what he’s really running from, and she tries to call out for the game to stop. But it’s too late. Isaiah goes down and is injured. His parents rush to him. Isaiah’s right arm is badly broken, with a bone protruding through the skin.

Ben and Laura are at Isaiah’s bedside in the hospital. Ben relays to his son what the doctor said, which is that with physical therapy, he will be back to normal in six months minimum. Ben is crushed, thinking how this spoils his plans of getting a football scholarship. Ben tells his son they will figure it out, which upsets Laura. Outside of Isaiah’s room. Nora waits. Ben steps outside to talk to her. “He’s going to inflict the sins of the fathers on all our children,” Nora tells Ben, adding that she saw Biddle on the field. “He’s come back to make us pay for what we did to him. This doesn’t end with Isaiah.”

Nathan Bratt sits in a chair by the fireplace in his new home, drinking and working on a crossword puzzle. The fire goes out, and he thinks teens are playing a prank. But when he gets up to check on things, he sees the ghost of Harold Biddle standing before him. The ghost catches fire, and the ashes float into Nathan’s body. After a moment of getting adjusted, Nathan (or should I say Harold) grins menacingly.

R.L. Stine’s classic Goosebumps books were famous for their unsettling twists at the end of each story. While the end of this contemporary retelling of Say Cheese and Die! could stand on its own, there are also a lot of hanging threads. What did Nora mean when she told Ben that Harold Biddle was seeking revenge on them? How did the camera and other items survive the inferno that killed Harold Biddle? And why is the hair on the back of my neck standing up straight? Okay, that last one may just be me. But keep following along as we recap each episode. The first 5 episodes are streaming now, so you don’t have to wait long to keep going. Here’s what’s next.

Episode 2 – The Haunted Mask

Isabella feels invisible. She doesn't have many friends at school and spends most of her time trolling her classmates on social media under a fake account. At the Halloween party, Isabella discovers a mask in the basement of the house. When she puts it on, the mask gives her a newfound confidence, but things take a turn when the mask starts to control her life.

Songs Featured in This Episode:

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).