Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991)
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: June 7th, 1991 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Stephen Herek Actors: Christina Applegate, Joanna Cassidy, John Getz, Josh Charles, Keith Coogan, Concetta Tomei, David Duchovny, Kimmy Robertson, Jayne Brook




ue Ellen Crandell’s (Christina Applegate) mother is going to Australia for the summer. This means that 17-year-old Sue will have the car, she can stay up as late as she wants, she can go to the beach, and her four siblings will watch each other; she’ll finally have total freedom, so it doesn’t matter that all of her friends are going to Europe as a graduation treat and that she doesn’t have a boyfriend (cue the potential for romance). That is until she discovers that her mom has hired a babysitter, Mrs. Sturak (Eda Reiss Merin) – a wretched old lady who insists on yelling, screaming orders, and pasting nametags on the kids. Fortunately for them, the nasty hag dies overnight, so they stuff her body in a trunk and drop it off at a nearby mortuary. Then they drive around in her classic Buick.

Unfortunately for the reckless youths, Mrs. Sturak kept the grocery funds on her person; Sue quickly realizes that for the next two months, they’ll have to fend for themselves financially. Their attitude is not deterred, however; they don’t need no stinkin’ adults. All she needs to do is get a job. But the gig at a greasy Clown Dog joint is too disgusting, prompting Sue to fudge a resume and miraculously land a spot at General Apparel West when Rose Lindsey (Joanna Cassidy), Senior Vice President of Operations, hires her as an executive administrative assistant. The receptionist who wanted the position, Carolyn (Jayne Brook), isn’t too thrilled, nor is coworker Bruce (David Duchovny). The catch is that the boy Sue likes, whom she met at Clown Dog, is Carolyn’s younger brother.

Questionably, Sue Ellen raids the petty cash box, gets dangerously entangled in a love triangle with her boss’ beau, and must precariously keep secrets from her boyfriend and coworkers. With overwhelming business lingo (or, at least, intended to be for the target audience), relationship problems, lies about divorce, parenting, managing money, and covering up embezzlement, being an adult is incredibly scary. So are careers, bills, taxes, and grocery shopping, even if it’s all just pretend; the consequences still seem mighty real. The idea of a child forced to rapidly assume the role of an adult is also riskily similar to “Big” (1988); even without the element of pure fantasy, “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” has a premise that feels unavoidably derivative (perhaps borrowing a bit from “Working Girl” [1988] as well).

“Enjoy your childhood!” shouts Sue. When her elaborate alter ego crashes back into reality, it becomes painfully apparent just how nonsensical it all was – especially with the role reversals/parallels, the turning around of lives, the examinations of immense levels of irresponsibility, the fixing of problems, and every single major catastrophe getting conveniently resolved (in a maddeningly tidy way). It’s a cross between nightmare and fantasy, and though obvious in its intentions, “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” (donning a title that sounds like it’s based on a book, though it’s an original script by Neil Landau and Tara Ison) is still completely unbelievable. But with lots of fashion, frequent montages, a ceaseless soundtrack, and a sprinkling of humor in the right spots, it will certainly appeal to the rebellious teen audience for which it was designed.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10