The ultra-cool soundtrack of the cult-classic comedy Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, supplements the early ‘90s fashionable flare of the films costume design with ‘80s nostalgia in its selection of songs mashed in between a wholehearted original score by David Newman (Hoffa, The Mighty Ducks Trilogy). The film’s storyline revolves around the wise-beyond-her-years and levelheaded Sue Ellen “Swell”, played stylishly with sophistication by Christina Applegate who’s eighteen going on thirty, when she has to take care of her three younger brothers Kenny (Keith Coogan), Zach (Christopher Pettiet) and Walter (Robert Hy Gorman) in addition to her little sister Melissa (Danielle Harris) by getting a job at the Clown Dog fast-food restaurant because her mom (Concetta Tomei) is going on a summer vacation to Australia with her boyfriend. Swell’s relationship begins to blossom with her co-worker Bryan (Josh Charles) who jokingly tells her to quit, after their intolerable manager keeps on telling her to put on a “happy face”. Swell thanks him for the advice. “Did he just finish reading Dianetics or something?” Swell asks, referring to her horrible boss at the fast food joint. “Finish the happy fat baths yourself.” Swell walks-out of the job and we hear the classic rock song Draggin the Line in a cover by Beat Goes Bang as Swell creates a bogus resume to qualify for a receptionist position at General Apparel West, only to inadvertently land the Executive Assistant gig, when Rose (Joanna Cassidy) becomes fond of Swell.
All of the characters have their cool quirks. Zach smitten and lovesick with his girlfriend. “You’re my moon Goddess.” He tells her, as they sit back in the parked car listening to As Time Goes By from Bing Crosby, a celebrated song from the 1942 landmark film Casablanca, which currently ranks at #3 on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 list of greatest films. When Swell makes breakfast for Kenny, Zach and Melissa, she hands places a massive bowl with three spoons on the kitchen counter, emptying a box of Cap N’ Crunch and pouring a carton of whole milk with the song Keep the Faith by the musical group, Valentine, on the soundtrack. When Swell discovers the metal case filled with petty cash, we hear Gimme Some Money from 1984 by the rock band Spinal Tap, rave on the soundtrack. “I just don’t know if I want oceanography to be my entire life.” Bryan says to Swell, as they walk hand in hand on the ocean beachfront to wonderful love song I Only Have Eyes For You by Timothy B. Schmit.
“Are you talking about us having sex?” Swell asks forthrightly, attempting to mask her disgust, as Rose’s boyfriend Gus (John Getz), the sleazy office executive with his tongue sticking out during his mouthwatering expressions and slimy sneers treats Swell out for lunch in his Ferrari over The Tender Trap by Frank Sinatra. Or the memorable scene between Bryan and Swell as they bounce around in what could be a Toys R’ Us, “We’re too old to bounce.” Says Swell, while the 1989 track The Best Thing by the Australian rock band Boom Crash Opera plays. After Swell’s reluctant behavior toward Bryan’s suggestions for going out, they get into a fight and we hear Perfect World by the Canadian rock supergroup Alias as she hides her double life. When Chains, the Lorraine Lewis solo track from the American hard rock band Femme Fatale plays on the soundtrack, Swell prepares for the fashion show to be held at her Mom’s house in Santa Clarita, just north of Los Angeles. Upon the film’s climax, Life’s Rich Tapestry by the new wave/post-punk band Modern English, plays on the soundtrack from their 1990 album Pillow Lips. This is the perfect song to closeout the film with all of the characters learning their lessons and paving their own paths for their futures to come.
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead didn’t make a bang at the box office in the summer of 1991, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t find its audience. It’s amassed a cult-following in the last three decades and because of its fabled status a hidden gem, it’s currently in the development stage of being remade as a contemporary film revolving around a racially diverse family. The fans from this cult have all had their crack at the Julia Child Belgian Waffles Kenny whips up batches of in the kitchen or quoting their favorite lines from the movie. “The dishes are done man!” Kenny says, as he shoots dishes with his rifle, listening to Led Zeppelin or Metallica while using drugs. Swell puts on a front in the corporate world and offers Zach relationship advice by handing him an article from Cosmopolitan magazine. “There’s a piece in their on game plan. I think you should read it.” Walter orders a home theater entertainment system with money he doesn’t have, after breaking his leg from falling off a roof. And the mere concept of putting your dead babysitter in a case and hauling it to the morgue, dropping it off at the front door with a note. Each character grows from their mischievous beginnings while determining to become better people. Except for the film’s villains, the hilariously sleazy Gus (John Getz) who gets dumped by Rose and the never-trust-a-guy-with-a-ponytail Bruce (David Duchovny) who’s girlfriend’s car gets teepeed. What makes this film special is the way it ingeniously walks the fine line between PG-13 and Rated R while allowing every character to evolve into a better version of themselves throughout the arc of the story.