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By Jess Fenton
5th June 2016

Everyone has their list of favourite movies, great films and guilty pleasures, but there is a far more sacred and unique list - it’s "Movies that Defined My Childhood". For some, it includes ‘Home Alone’, ‘Hook’, ‘Troop Beverly Hills’ and/or ‘The Sandlot’. For me and many, many more it included ‘Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead’. This 1991 gem is celebrating its 25th anniversary which means, among other things, that I’m now old AF.

Like most cult classic era-defining films, ‘Don’t Tell Mom’ was a box-office flop, grossly under-appreciated by the masses at the time and critically slammed by those who were too old and too jaded to truly grasp this black comedy for all its golden uniqueness. It was the home-entertainment market - in 1991 that meant VHS (post ‘91ers you’ll have to Google that one) - and a second life and high rotation on HBO that rocketed Sue Ellen and her siblings into the hearts and minds of outsiders and miscreants of a generation.

We’ve all seen the films about what can befall a house and its occupants once the parents bid farewell, but what if “they got their shit together?” as writer Neil Landau put it. This simple yet highly original concept was the birth of ‘Don’t Tell Mom’, but it was a very rocky pregnancy, battling through bidding wars, attached stars dropping out and a title change (Originally called 'The Real World' pre-MTV doco-series). There were also rewrites galore, changing the babysitter from nice to mean, making Sue Ellen smarter, defining the company as a clothing manufacturer and expanding the business world Sue Ellen lived in.


The final script eventually founds its way to a new studio and landed in Christina Applegate’s lap thanks to a six degrees of Kevin Bacon factor - and by that, I mean a producer was friends with Christina’s then co-star Ed O’Neil who literally handed her the script. And the rest is history.

So with an approved, bought and paid-for script and a hot young star attached, about to make her film debut, it was time to round out the rest of the cast. Keith Coogan was a year older than the then 19-year-old Applegate, yet he was cast as her 15-year-old brother Kenny. Coogan originally auditioned for Sue Ellen’s love interest Bryan, a role eventually going to Josh Charles, but coming off the back of 1987s ‘Adventures in Babysitting’ he decided to shake things up a bit. Jennifer Love Hewitt, yes that Jennifer Love Hewitt was originally cast as the younger sister Melissa, but clashes with her ‘Kids Incorporated’ schedule meant she had to back out, leaving the role open for Danielle Harris to take over. Robert Hy Gorman played the youngest of the Crandell clan at just 10 years old, and Christopher Pettiet as the lovelorn middle child Zach. Of the five on screen siblings, it’s only Pettiet that succumbed to the child-actor cliché and sadly passed away in 2000 of an accidental drug overdose at just 24.

Applegate, already an established TV star, is obviously the biggest success story of the cast. ‘Married With Children’ continued for another six years after ‘Don’t Tell Mom’, after which Christina starred in a few more shows that never quite made it past two seasons, but it was her guest role in ‘Friends’ that earned her an Emmy. And while ‘Don’t Tell Mom’ may have been her first film, it certainly wasn’t her last. Christina has starred in dozens of films of varying success but I think we can all agree - next to Sue Ellen Crandell, of course - it’s been her role as Veronica Corningstone in the ‘Anchorman’ movies that has proven to be the favourite and most enduring.

Every girl growing up watching Sue Ellen wanted to be her.

Alongside Applegate’s success story, it has to be... David Duchovny right? Yes, my absent-minded beauties, David “Fox Mulder” Duchovny was in ‘Don’t Tell Mom’. It was not a big role, but it was a memorable one. In part because another character refers to him as “Metallica breath”, but mostly because of his slimy slicked-back long hair he sported for the roll of Sue Ellen’s co-nemesis Bruce. There will now be a short intermission while you Google and/or re-watch ‘Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead’ to confirm.

So, we have an original film with a young, hot, up-and-coming cast. Is that the winning formula? Or was it memorable lines such as, “I never asked you to whisk the couch” or “I’m right on top of the Rose!”? Could it possibly be the too long, unique and unforgettable title with not one but two apostrophes? Perhaps it’s because we saw young characters struggle and rise above and succeed without being misjudged, underestimated or have things mysteriously and conveniently fall into place for them? No one had great emotional or moral breakthroughs, the bad guys never got what was coming to them and the heroine didn’t make it all the way to the end unscathed with everyone none the wiser. Could a 17-year-old fake her way into becoming an Executive Assistant and dominate the role, saving an entire company in the process? No. But that suspension of disbelief aside, everything else is plausible. Every girl growing up watching Sue Ellen wanted to be her. It starts with the hair and the clothes, then as you get a little older and more of the film sinks in you realise you admire her tenacity, skills, style, ability to step up and her fantastically low tolerance for bullshit.

My fellow ‘Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead’ lovers, let us take this bittersweet milestone to reflect on just how much we loved this movie while quietly weeping about how old our love of this movie makes us. And for those of you not yet familiar with Sue Ellen, Kenny and the rest as you keep asking yourself “Who the hell is Rose?” - go forth and watch, learn and enjoy because “The dishes are done, man.”

RELEASE DATE: 07/06/1991
RUN TIME: 01h 42m
CAST: Christina Applegate
Josh Charles
Keith Coogan
David Duchovny
Robert Hy Gorman
Christopher Pettiet
Danielle Harris
John Getz
Christopher Plummer
Jayne Brook
DIRECTOR: Stephen Herek
WRITERS: Neil Landau
Tara Ison
PRODUCERS: Julia Phillips
Brian Reilly
Jeffrey Silver
SCORE: David Newman
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