I’ve always felt that Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead is an under-appreciated 90s movie classic. Starring the gorgeous, Kelly Bundy era Christina Applegate, the adorably campy 90s antics that ensue throughout the film and the nonsensically zany plot make it a joy to watch.
If you haven’t seen this gem, it’s a film about a 17 year old girl, Sue Ellen Crandell, and her misfit siblings as they try to survive a summer without their mother who is taking a one month vacation to Australia. They are left with a prickly old wet blanket of a babysitter to take care of them in their mother’s absence, but she unexpectedly dies of a heart attack and leaves the bunch to fend for themselves. What results is a zany summer filled with identity fraud, clown dogs, David Duchovny, and lots of cheesy one-liners.
One of my favorite scenes in the entire movie arrives during the emotional climax of the film. Sue Ellen is in way over her head as she’s pretending to be an older, experienced fashion designer to get a job at a local uniform warehouse in order to provide enough money to feed her family while their mother is away. After spending all the petty cash in the account left to her by the company, she is set with the task of planning a major fashion show to unveil the company’s new product line with no way to pay for it.
Instead of hiring professionals to do the set up work, cater the party, and work the equipment, Sue Ellen must rely on her stoner brother, his stoner friends, and the rest of her siblings to get the house ready for the show.
To add to the suspense, Sue Ellen’s rival, Carolyn, sneaks into Sue Ellen’s office after hours and rummages through her purse. Carolyn and her partner in crime, Bruce, find concrete evidence that Sue Ellen is only 17 and rush over to the fashion show to present the evidence to their boss, Rose.
The entire fashion show is a dream come true for any fan of the neon 90s. Brightly colored shirts, hats, and ridiculously tacky apparel are draped over every character in the scene. Coupled with some very radical music choices, I consider it a microcosm of the 90s.
As Carolyn and Bruce arrive with devious smirks on their faces, they pull up to the dimwitted group of valets out by the driveway. After a witty exchange, the valets assure Bruce that they’re “on break” and utter one of my favorite lines of dialogue in film history: “Park it yourself, Metallica breath.” No insult cuts so deep as this one and it’s the kind of zinger that immediately shuts down any subsequent conversation.
Carolyn is practically jumping out of her seat with anticipation to bust Sue Ellen in front of the large group of attendees and rushes over to tell Rose the terrible secret. In a surprising twist of fate, Rose calls Carolyn out for being a scheming little wench and tells her to “Grow up.”
Inside the house, Sue Ellen is uncomfortably cornered by the sleazy Gus as he makes blatant sexual advances at a girl who isn’t even legal yet. Like any strong female, Sue Ellen doesn’t take his innuendos very kindly. She picks up a water gun off of an end table and sprays Gus in his crotch region and we all know there’s nothing worse than a giant pee stain on khakis. Rose arrives shortly after the incident and discovers that Gus is a creeper.
Rose assures Sue Ellen that the evening must go on despite the drama and they both prepare to start the show. At the podium, Sue Ellen describes the fantastic sights we’re about to experience first hand as the models begin to strut down the catwalk in the most outrageously absurd attire imaginable.
The show starts out with some girls dressed as futuristic bell hops with coordinated, matching three-tiered luggage. I wish I had luggage that looked like that. They’re like little polka-dotted wedding cakes.
Next up is the nurse, Nicole. Her pink spandex dress and hooker leg straps are accented nicely by the insanely huge nurse cap on her head. If only all nurses could dress so unbelievably gaudy. It would help a lot of people deal with their terminal illnesses more optimistically.
As Sue Ellen speaks about the next few models, her eloquent descriptions are cut short by the lovesick ramblings of Brian, the local Clown Dog delivery boy who wishes to make things right with her. Sue Ellen is obviously frazzled by his romantic statements and begins rushing her performers off of the stage. This is a huge disservice to the viewer as these are some of the best costumes.
The first is a bright purple girl scout leader with a puffy scarf and park ranger hat. The look of surprise and embarrassment on her face is palpable as she’s shooed off the stage like some unwelcome entertainer.
My favorite outfit of the night is saved for last as Sue Ellen hastily introduces the female chef. A neon yellow french chef’s outfit is highlighted by a bright blue scarf and a cartoonish, oversized whisk and mixing bowl. I wish this one wasn’t rushed off the stage so quickly because I’d like to model her visage in clay.
She looks like the type of evil cook that could lead an entire Village People stable of nefarious villains like the deranged dentist or the serial murderer mailman. The studios really should have sprung for a line of action figures to promote this film.
The dumbfounded Brian finally arrives at the fashion show with a confused look on his face. I guess he didn’t know Sue Ellen was throwing such a huge party without inviting him. As he walks to confront her, Brian is flanked by photographers and Sue Ellen pretends he is modeling part of the clothing line.
Unfortunately for everyone, this is the exact moment when Sue Ellen’s mother arrives home from her Australian holiday and demands an immediate explanation for the bizarre circumstances she’s just stumbled onto.
Her plan unraveling, Sue Ellen comes clean and admits she’s only 17. However, like any good teen movie, she faces basically no repercussions and the world goes right on turning. Oh, the magic of Hollywood.
The truth is that no one could be mad at their daughter for throwing such a kickass bash while they were away. If you came home from a long vacation and found people dressed like that parading around your front yard, you can bet your ass that any ounce of parental responsibility would fly directly out the window.
In any case, we can all admit that no one will ever dress as spectacularly as they did in the 90s.
I leave you with the song from the closing credits of Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. It’s a cover of the classic Tommy James song “Draggin’ the Line” by a group called Beat Goes Bang: