Posted on June 15, 2018
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991)
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (quite a mouthful) is a comedy film directed by Stephen Herek. It stars Christina Applegate, Keith Coogan, and Josh Charles.
The film follows five children that care for themselves after their babysitter dies (their mother is vacationing in Australia).
The Story (SPOILERS)
The film starts with a strange animated intro, then transitions into a clothing store. Sue Ellen Crandell is a 17-year-old who can’t go to Europe with her friends for the summer.
With her mother going on vacation to Australia, Sue Ellen looks forward to two months of freedom.
Her siblings include:
- Kenny (slacker/stoner)
- Zach (love-struck teen)
- Melissa (brash tomboy)
- Walter (couch potato)
As the film enters the family household, it is apparent that the children overwhelm their mother. The house is a wreck and they ignore her until she goes away.
Much to their horror, the mother hires a babysitter named Mrs. Sturak. She arrives in a black 1955 Buick and assures Mrs. Crandell that she can take care of the children.
The instant Mrs. Crandell leaves, Mrs. Sturak blows a whistle and the Twilight Zone theme plays. She transforms into shrill dictator, angering the children with chores and rules.
She quickly dies in her sleep and her body is discovered by Sue Ellen. Fearing their mother will return, they stuff the body in her luggage trunk and drop it off at a mortuary.
After stealing her car (It’s a classic), they discover that their summer money was left with Mrs. Sturak’s body at the funeral home.
With no money for food and bills, Sue Ellen and Kenny flip a pizza box to decide who will get a job. Sue Ellen looses and finds a job at Clown Dog, a disgusting fast-food restaurant.
Despite a kind co-worker named Bryan, she quickly quits due to her awful manager, Mr. Egg.
Sue Ellen forges a Fashion Designer’s résumé and applies for a receptionist possition at GAW (General Apparel West).
Rose Lindsey, an executive, views her over-qualified résumé and offers Sue Ellen a job as her administrative assistant.
Carolyn, the rude receptionist, is angered by her promotion being stolen.
While the children are having dinner, Mrs. Sturak’s car is stolen by drag queens (not explained, just odd).
Sue Ellen then starts driving her mother’s Volvo and begins “borrowing” petty cash at GAW to support the family until her paycheck arrives.
Angered by Kenny’s behavior (the dishes are done, man), Sue Ellen yells at him to become more responsible.
Brian and her go on a date to the beach and discuss the issues of growing older/juggling responsibility. The two share a nice moment, kiss, and become a couple.
One morning, the other children steal from the petty cash box and purchase exorbitant items (an entertainment center, a diamond, a baseball bat, and a bone).
The stolen $3,000 is way too much for Sue Ellen to handle and she becomes stressed by her workload (which she is offloading to a secretary to get by).
She discovers that Brian and Carolyn are brother and sister, leading to her being secretive and them breaking up.
Walter falls off the roof and breaks his leg, leading to Kenny sobering up and becoming more responsible. Sue Ellen’s job falls into jeopardy and she offers to host a design party to save it.
After convincing her siblings to help clean up the house, the party seems to go off without a hitch. It quickly comes to an end once Brian crashes it and Mrs. Crandell arrives home early.
Upset, Sue Ellen confesses her age and the party abruptly ends.
Originally, Mrs. Crandell is upset but quickly becomes impressed by how much has changed in her absence.
Rose affirms Sue Ellen that her unique designs saved the company and offers her the job again, which she declines in favor of college.
Rose and Sue Ellen make plans to get together for dinner to discuss it later.
Sue Ellen and Bryan make up and are interrupted by Mrs. Crandell, who asks what happened to Mrs. Sturak.
As the credits roll, the scene cuts to a cemetery, where two morticians look over a gravestone that reads “Nice Old Lady Inside, Died of Natural Causes.”
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead is one of my guilty pleasures. I don’t know why this dated nonsense causes so much delight, but I can’t help but enjoying myself.
The children having character progression by becoming more self-reliant is an excellent premise. Kenny going from negligent stoner to supportive sibling and Sue Ellen balancing work with her teenage life is fun to watch.
The other kids aren’t as interesting, but you can’t expect much from their character positions. The title would suggest the Babysitter would have a more prominent role, but her character is just a nuisance to propel the plot.
There was so much potential with her hellish role, but the result was muddled in execution. Having her die 10 minutes into the film was unfortunate. The payoff for the tombstone joke was funny wordplay, but could’ve been fleshed out further.
The film doesn’t age that well. WordStar and Lotus being on the PC, the old television remote, and the ridiculous fashion are some highlights. The antagonists are weak plot hindrances (Mulder saying “Justice” is just awful).
The resolution at the end ties up way too easily, especially with the embezzling aspect. Most of the comedy saves the film from obscurity, with Kenny being the go-to for one-liners. Faults aside, it still stands as a decent flick.