Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991) — Who’s gonna stop me?

“Dishes are DONE, man.”

Justin’s rating: This is Dark Home Alone

Justin’s review: Man, I miss the ridiculous premises that were the bedrock of ’80s and ’90s comedies. Absolutely nothing about them had to make actual sense, as the whole point was to put characters in a wacky situation and watch as further wackiness ensued. Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead dares you to your face to question its setup because of how outlandish it is. And if you did? It wouldn’t care.

What we have here is a single mother of five children who decides to fly to Australia to hang out with her boyfriend for the summer. Seeing as how she’s only lightly involved with this whole “parenting” trend, it checks out with her character. To fend off calls from CPS, she hires an ultra-sweet old lady to babysit them for the season. Said woman stays sweet until mom is gone, and then it’s all “LINE UP MAGGOTS” and fascist rule.

Basically, she’s the babysitter from hell. Don’t worry, she won’t be in the movie too long, which is kind of too bad because I would’ve liked to see a kids-vs-evil-babysitter story.

Anyway, once this “deranged Mary Poppins” kicks the bucket and her corpse is dumped off at the mortuary anonymously, the kids find themselves as the delighted lords and ladies of their home for a whole two months. That delight lasts as long as it takes for them to discover that they have no money to foot their general slacker lifestyle.

This spurs eldest daughter Swell (Christina Applegate in her first starring role) to step up and start providing for her clan. She fudges her way into a high-paying office gig, wears every fab outfit ever, and makes moony eyes at Josh Charles — best summer vacation EVER! She may be in over her head, but Swell learns that her real super-power is delegation, which she employs to great effect.

Eldest son and resident stoner Kenny (Adventures in Babysitting’s Keith Coogan) becomes the stand-in dad, and the other three rugrats have to reign in their destructive impulses long enough to keep the house together.

Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead might’ve been released in 1991, but this is an ’80s movie through-and-through. You can see this being a Joe Dante, Chris Columbus, or John Hughes production — in fact, all three were approached to direct — particularly with the focus on rebellious teens skirting the boundary of social norms and perhaps growing up a little by the end credits. In fact, the general sass of the kids is a big part of the appeal here, as is Applegate’s priceless expressions (that girl can scowl!) that lend more of an air of amusement than a string of laugh-out-loud moments.

Yet this movie is a whole lot more funny than I remember. I only saw it once before rewatching it for this review, and the first time I thought it was a bit of a dud. Yet this time around, I reveled in the kids’ quest to keep their summer mom-free no matter what it took. It’s weirdly more of a workplace comedy than a teen romp, but as long as you roll with the journey, you’ll be just fine.

Didja notice?

  • Remember when comedies used to have animated title sequences?
  • “Fry you suckers!”
  • The vertigo camera pullback and Twilight Zone theme
  • “My mom left me with this deranged Mary Poppins.”
  • The kids having to wear name tags.
  • “Let’s hack off her head!” “Yeah!”
  • “Hey, no problem Twisted Sister!”
  • Put on a happy face 😀
  • Liza Minelli just stole your ride
  • Spinal Tap on the soundtrack
  • A communal cereal bowl
  • Those QED reports
  • The kids drooling over the food channel
  • David Duchovny’s very bad hair day
  • All dates should have a frolic on the beach
  • That’s… one way to do the dishes
  • Stores don’t like you testing out the toys
  • “I’m right on top of that, Rose!”
  • That’s one severely outdated entertainment center. But hey, all the blank VHS tapes you could want!
  • Shoutout to this movie’s energetic soundtrack!
  • Rose eating the M&Ms
  • This movie made me crave waffles
  • “Park it yourself, Metallica breath!”
  • Nicole’s walkway dance

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