With Halloween around the corner, horror films are in high demand. Sadly, choices are rather limited this season and “Paranormal Activity 3” might be the only film with a wide release this month that manages to capture the holiday’s playful yet unnerving spirit.

Following a prologue with cameos by the franchise’s previous stars, “Paranormal Activity 3” picks up in 1988 to shed some much needed light on the backstory of the franchise’s sister protagonists, Katie and Kristi.

Living an ordinary existence in the suburbs with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicolas Smith), a young Katie and Kristi find their lives turned upside down by the arrival of Kristi’s invisible friend, an entity known as “Toby.”

As to be expected with prequels, this installment introduces a considerable amount of mythology to a franchise that’s been rather tight-lipped in previous entries.

Those who complain that the previous films suffered from poor pacing will be pleased to hear that this third entry really rectifies this setback. “Paranormal Activity 3” wastes no time in setting up its characters’ plight and has a brisker pace. Put simply, “Paranormal Activity 3” just feels like a more well-rounded film than its predecessors.

Perhaps even more important with films of this genre, “Paranormal Activity 3” exceeds the scare quota of the first two films. Its scares are not only more plentiful, but far more effective and inventive.

One particularly eerie scene involving a babysitter and a ghost is hands-down the creepiest moment in the trilogy thus far and is sure to call to mind a similar moment in John Carpenter’s seminal horror classic, “Halloween.”

Like the second installment, “Paranormal Activity 3” benefits from a larger cast and there’s a noticeable attempt to inject more humor in the characters’ interactions that really helps the characters feel more authentic.

The characters are much more endearing this time around, with Christopher Smith proving to be an appealing lead as family patriarch Dennis. It helps that Dennis is a much more proactive protagonist than those who came before him.

Unfortunately, Bittner is given far less to do as Julie, making one poor decision after another. While some of her parenting blunders may be attributed to her young age, not all of her decisions can be justified that easily. Her nonchalant attitude towards her boyfriend putting cameras all around her daughters’ bedroom and her persistent refusal to acknowledge the strange occurrences happening around her, made her seem to be a seriously negligent parent.

Fans of the series will no doubt relish this sequel and it might even sway some of the franchise’s detractors. Exceeding expectations, “Paranormal Activity 3” is not just the best entry in the franchise: it’s a damn good horror film on its own terms.