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‘Paranormal Activity’ vs. ‘Best of the Best’: Which Movie Had the Greater Haunting?

How do actual demons stack up against emotional taekwondo demons?

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

Paranormal Activity came out in 2007. It’s about a couple, Katie and Micah, who move into a new house and begin experiencing a haunting by a demon. Micah sets up a video camera to record what’s going on. Things start slowly (footsteps are heard in the distance, a door moves just enough to let you know that it’s not wind, lights click on and off) but then escalate (a door gets slammed and then pounded on, a picture frame gets shattered and Micah’s face in the picture gets scratched with claw marks, the [invisible] demon grabs a hold of Katie’s leg and pulls her out of bed and then drags her down the hallway while she screams for help). The movie ends with Katie, possessed by the demon, kneeling over Micah’s dead body and sniffing it, before cutting to a black screen that says that the police found Micah’s body several days later but have not been able to find Katie. We learn in the sequels that the demon had been a part of Katie’s life since she was a child. She was quite haunted.

Best of the Best came out in 1989. It’s about a group of five American men who, after a nationwide invitation-only taekwondo tournament, are selected to take on the deadly and terrifying South Korean taekwondo team in a one-match, winner-take-all showdown. Of the five Americans (Tommy Lee, Alexander Grady, Travis Brickley, Virgil Keller, and Sonny Grasso), Tommy Lee is the most interesting. He’s the team’s best fighter, but also their most troubled one: He exists in the dark and cold shadow of his older brother, David, who he watched get killed in a tournament similar to the one Tommy’s been chosen to fight in. What’s more, Tommy gets matched up to fight Dae Han, South Korea’s most devastating fighter and also the man who killed David. Tommy is crippled with anxiety after he finds out he has to fight Dae Han, which manifests most readily in his refusal to go full power in practice matches and drills for fear of hurting someone. The movie ends with Dae Han apologizing to Tommy Lee after their fight and offering himself as Tommy’s new brother. Tommy is in tears and unable to speak. He, too, was quite haunted.

So, the question here is obvious:

Which character experienced the greater haunting? Katie by the demon in Paranormal Activity or Tommy Lee by the memory of the death of his older brother in Best of the Best?

That’s what we need to figure out. It would seem to be a problematic thing, trying to answer a question as nebulous as this one. But it’s not. The way you do it is you break up the entrants into categories and then select the greater of the two for each one. Then you just tally up the total and there you go. If you do that then that’s how you answer a difficult or knotty question in a tidy, easy way.

Category 1

Which haunting was the most devastating?

In the Best of the Best universe, Tommy Lee is one of the best fighters on the planet: a young, lightning-fast gold medal winner with a literally immeasurable amount of power in his right leg (a full-force kick he delivers to a kick pad connected to a computer short-circuits the computer and also knocks the guy holding it clean off his feet and up into the air several feet). But the memory of his brother getting beaten to death nearly robs him of all of that. And that’s terrible. Real terrible. What a cursed, half-lived life it’d be to have an exceptional talent at your disposable but be unable to fully unleash it. Imagine LeBron playing only pickup basketball, or Jim Brown playing only flag football.

That said, a whole bunch of dead people is worse than a single sad, living person. And I’m cheating here a bit, but by the end of the Paranormal Activity film franchise, we see that the demon is responsible for the deaths of more than a dozen people.

And really, even if we look only at the first Paranormal Activity, Katie’s haunting ended up with her killing her boyfriend of three years. Tommy Lee’s haunting ended up with him being less great at taekwondo for a little while. Killing a loved one while possessed by a demon is more devastating than a loved one getting killed by a South Korean athlete, probably.

Winner: Katie’s haunting

Score: 1–0, Katie’s haunting

Category 2

Which haunting inspired the most courage?

I’m not giving Micah any credit here for being courageous, because there was no courage displayed in Paranormal Activity, only stupidity. He should’ve gotten through that third or fourth encounter. He should’ve realized that there wasn’t shit he could do after he saw the video of the demon leaving footprints on the floor as it walked around the house and stood over their bed. And he should’ve just left. That’s it. That should’ve been his part in the movie. He 100 percent deserved to die. I love my wife a great deal, but if it turns out today that — after 16 years of joy and laughter and life-building — she starts getting haunted by a demon, I’m pretty much gone. I might send an email a few weeks later like, “Hey, how’d that demon thing turn out?” That’s about it, though. Good luck to her and to my children. I’m rooting for them.

On the other side: Tommy Lee fighting Dae Han? That’s courage. These are the things we’re told about Dae Han going into the fight:

  • He’s “the all-time gold medal winner” in taekwondo.
  • He’s “the most feared fighter in the sport today.”
  • He’s capable of killing a man during a match, and worse still: willing to do so.

Let’s add to that the fact that the one guy we know Dae Han’s killed in the ring is Tommy’s older brother, and then add on top of that, the fact that he wears a fucking eye patch on some real villain shit — it’s a real wonder Tommy managed to get himself worked up enough to fight him at all. And if we want to go even further: Tommy didn’t just get into the ring with Dae Han, he goddamn destroyed him. Each of the five fights between the USA and South Korea offered the fighters an opportunity to score points for their team (basic kicks and punches delivered to the chest and face area were worth a point). After all the fights, the cumulative score determined the winner.

By the time Tommy was up (he was the last fight), USA was losing 29–22, basically an insurmountable deficit. And what did Tommy do? He went fucking nuts is what he did. Dae Han scored the first three points of the match (32–22), then Tommy — having decided enough was enough — went to work. He pummeled Dae Han, beating him into goop. With 40 or so seconds left, he delivered two massive blows to Dae Han’s right leg, then a spinning roundhouse kick to his face that nearly removed his head from shoulders. Dae Han somehow managed to stand back up, but he was completely defenseless. He was literally just standing there waiting for Tommy to kill him. Tommy didn’t, though. Rather than kick a hole through his chest, he just let the clock run out. USA ended up losing 33–32, but they actually ended up winning, because sometimes winning ain’t about the score, you know what I’m saying?

Winner: Tommy Lee’s haunting

Score: 1–1

Category 3

Which haunting was the most undefeatable?

Well, shit. Tommy defeated Dae Han so soundly that Dae Han dedicated his life to Tommy. Katie went on a killing spree. So, yeah, I’d say Katie’s haunting was the most undefeatable.

Winner: Katie’s haunting

Score: 2–1, Katie’s haunting

Category 4

Which character did the most to outrun his or her haunting?

This one is a bit unfair. Katie and Micah hired a psychic to come to their house on two separate occasions and both times he tells them that it doesn’t matter where Katie goes, the demon is going to follow. So there’s that to consider. But still, they plan to spend a few nights in a hotel after the demon drags Katie down the hall by her ankle. Katie (possibly possessed at this point), however, ends up balking when Micah tells her it’s time to go. “I don’t wanna go,” she tells Micah, while lying in the bed, half-smiling. “I don’t wanna leave. Will you stay with me? … It’s better if we stay.”

First of all: “Fuck no, I’m not staying with you,” is what Micah should’ve said. Second of all, despite the psychic’s claim that the demon is going to follow Katie wherever she goes, I think you still gotta try and leave. I mean, you already know what’s going to happen if you stay there (your shit is gonna get wrecked). You gotta at least try and stay somewhere else one night and see what happens. Do something different. It’s dumb not to.

But so what I’m saying is: Micah and Katie didn’t do much to try and outrun the haunting.

Tommy, on the other hand: When he found out he was going to have to fight Dae Han, he literally got on a motorcycle and rode right TF off into the sunset. He eventually came back, yes, but he at least gets partial credit for attempting to for-real outrun his haunting.

Winner: Tommy Lee’s haunting

Score: 2–2

Category 5

Which haunting caused the most collateral damage?

For Tommy, the only real collateral damage his haunting causes is the small period of time right before the team leaves for South Korea when they think they’ve lost their best fighter. There’s also an argument when one of the assistants finds out about Tommy’s connection to Dae Han and confronts the coach about it, saying he shouldn’t have put Tommy in that position, but that gets sorted out fairly quickly.

For Katie, we know that Micah ends up getting killed, so there’s that, but also maybe he has a family? Maybe his mom or dad has to get that call from the police that their son was murdered and left for dead by his girlfriend, with whom they maybe had a nice relationship beforehand? And if we want to step away from maybes, we can say for certain that Katie has a family, and so they’re going to have to deal with that phone call from the police. Also, we know Katie had at least one friend and that one friend was at least a little bit aware of the haunting (Micah showed her a video of one of the nights when a haunting thing happened). So she has to live with knowing that there are real demons in the universe. And there’s the psychic, too, who was unable to help Micah and Katie. He has to carry that around on his shoulders. As does the demonologist they called to try and come help them, but who was out of town. For the rest of his career, he has to know that someone was being haunted and they reached out to him and he wasn’t there for them. That sort of thing can eat away at you. That’s at least seven people legitimately collaterally damaged by Katie’s haunting.

This category is an easy win for Katie.

Winner: Katie’s haunting

Final score: 3–2, Katie’s haunting

So, the question again:

Which character experienced the greater haunting? Katie by the demon in Paranormal Activity or Tommy Lee by the memory of the death of his older brother in Best of the Best?

Katie did. Katie had a greater haunting, by a score of 3–2.