Step aside Annabelle, there’s a new evil in town and It doesn’t clown around when springing out the scares.

For lovers of the genre, this has been the summer of horrors — and by this we don’t mean the bloodbath at the Hollywood box office these past few months. Where star-studded big-budget films have sunk faster than the Titanic, horror movies are giving conventional front-runners a chill down their spines, be it with Annabelle: Creation, It Comes at Night or 47 Meters Down.

As It floats into UAE theatres this week, courtesy of New Line Cinema and Warner Bros Pictures, this bullish run at the box office has just struck gold. Those of us who grew up terrified of clowns thanks to author Stephen King’s skilled penmanship when writing It, will experience a twinge of nostalgia as director Andy Muschetti introduces a new generation to the evil of Pennywise. This film adaptation is several years overdue, especially since the book tasted success as a television mini-series in two languages, including a Hindi version titled Woh.

Taking a trip down memory lane, we return to Derry, Maine, once again, a town where evil is simmering under the surface and children vanish in the blink of an eye every 27 years. The terror returns one stormy afternoon when young Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) goes skipping down the street in his yellow raincoat and disappears without a trace.

Months pass, but Georgie’s older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) refuses to accept his younger sibling is gone forever. With summer holidays upon them, Bill enlists the help of friends Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) to retrace his brother’s last moments in a bid to locate him. Along the way, three new members — social outcasts much like the original four — join the cause to give rise to the Losers’ Club.

While Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is a rebellious teen hiding from domestic abuse, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the resident ‘fat kid’ who is constantly picked on by the high school bullies. Rounding up the secret seven is Mike (Chosen Jacobs), a home-schooled kid of colour who is growing up in a town where racial tensions are second to the evil that will soon be unleashed upon them.

That first glimpse of Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise the clown is the stuff of nightmares as he peeks from under a storm drain, with half his face shrouded in shadow. All you see in that moment are two menacing eyes piercing through the darkness, as the lilting laugh forces you to relive the raw childhood fear that your parents probably instilled in you for talking to strangers.

As Pennywise gets bolder and stronger, feeding off the fear of his newfound targets, the story and the direction don’t hold back the punches, keeping the scares coming at a steady, taut pace, which leads up to the predictable climax — at least for fans of King’s novel.

While it was a tad disturbing to watch young teens use language that would perhaps put some adults to shame, each member of the Losers’ Club lends credibility to their character. For Wolfhard’s Richie, the feat was simply walking off the sets of Stranger Things and sleepwalking into It.

Similarities between the popular Netflix show and It are several and not surprising considering the former draws much of its inspiration from the classic novel and pays homage to King in many subtle ways (remember Winona Ryder’s Joyce asking her son Will whether he has nightmares about clowns?). Interestingly, the Duffer Brothers — the geniuses behind Stranger Things — wanted to adapt the book into a TV series, but lost the bidding war to Warner Bros. The rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, the star of the movie is Skarsgard’s Pennywise, an evil so deliciously menacing that it’s an absolute treat to watch him rack up the scares, which is probably not an easy feat under the clown’s disguise. Credit also goes to the music composer Benjamin Wallfisch, who doesn’t let up on the thrills.

While It is a classic horror at its heart, the film is also a coming-of-age story in equal measure as friendships forge and promises are made, sliding the door open for a sequel that is sure to follow. If the second outing is as good as its first instalment, then keep that popcorn within reach.

Don’t miss it!

Language: English, with Arabic subtitles

Rating: 15+

Time: 135 minutes

Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgard and Finn Wolfhard

Stars: 4 out of 5