What makes a funny movie? Is it clever dialogue? Is it strange situations? Is it zany characters? Is it outlandish images? Or is it the number of times someone gets hit in the crotch? For David Zucker and Co., the creators of “Scary Movie 3,” the answer is undoubtedly ‘all of the above.’

This newest addition to the “Scary Movie” series stoops to the tradition of barely palatable humor set by its forebearers. Although slightly more mature than the first two films (remember the gym teacher, Ms. Mann, from number one?) “Scary Movie 3” hits with enough low blows to keep everyone cringing. It has groin kicks, head knocks, defenestrations and decapitations galore. Not to mention the gobs of potty humor thrown in for good measure. Let’s go inside Mr. Zucker’s head for a moment: “What’s funnier than seeing a person vomit? I know! Seeing a person vomit onto another person who’s using the toilet!”

As did its previous incarnations, “Scary Movie 3” borrows plots and characters from recent suspense films and puts them through a Cuisinart until something resembling a coherent narrative comes out the other end. To describe it as “pastiche” seems inappropriate, since “Scary Movie 3” is about as postmodern as Weird Al Yankovic. The resulting effect seems more like an episodic mix of scenes from better films — a Frankenstein’s monster of contemporary American cinema. Among the victims of “Scary Movie 3” are Gore Verbinsky’s “The Ring,” Curtis Hansen’s “8 Mile,” Larry and Andy Wachowski’s “The Matrix,” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs.” At certain moments, Mr. Zucker actually manages to capture the tone of his source material quite well, leaving us wondering where the line between parody and mimesis should be drawn. To peek inside his head one more time: “It’s alive! It’s allliiiiiiive!!”

To give “Scary Movie 3” its due, there are jokes that transcend the incessant (but embarrassingly funny) toilet gags and slapstick high jinks. In one instance, Brenda Meeks (the ditzy protagonist played by Regina Hall in all three films) is researching lighthouses on the Internet, a la “The Ring,” and after dozens of ad windows pop up she is startled by the sound of a foghorn, which anticipates the cut to the next scene — a rocky seaside peninsula where her car pulls up. There’s also the moment when Tom (the retired preacher played by Charlie Sheen) runs outside his farmhouse to investigate a strange noise and spins around madly, emitting a “whoosh” sound every time he whips past the camera. Jokes such as these offer more than gross-out spectacles and actually poke fun at how suspense films are constructed on a formal level. They hint at a deeper intelligence at work behind the groin kicks and deluges of vomit, and make “Scary Movie 3” enjoyable on another level of humor — at the pith of the audience’s funny bone.

As long as Hollywood keeps making films (which seems likely), Scary Movies won’t be far behind. The fourth one in the series is already on the way. This time around, Mr. Zucker will be going after superhero flicks — which makes the title of the film incongruous, leaving us to quake at the idea that the “Scary Movie” series will soon gnaw away at every available genre. But as long as the man behind “Airplane” and “Naked Gun” stays in charge, there’s always hope.

What’s most amazing about “Scary Movie 3” is how it got a PG-13 rating. The Motion Picture Association of America has always looked more kindly on sex and violence than it has on profanity, and the film does manage to keep a clean mouth in the midst of its foul imagery. Add a phone call from omnipotent producer Harvey Weinstein and the deal is sealed.ÊForget about whether or not it’s constitutional to censor art (which it isn’t) — “Scary Movie 3” isn’t art so it doesn’t matter. Bring the kids, everybody! And move over, “Brother Bear” — “Scary Movie 3” is the family fun film of the fall!