IT (15, 135 mins)

Starring: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott. Director: Andres Muschietti.

BURIED within the 1,000-plus pages of Stephen King's disturbing 1986 novel It are piercing truths about the corruptibility of childhood innocence and the redemptive power of friendship.

Among the expertly crafted lines is one hypochondriac's sombre realisation that true evil doesn't always manifest as a dancing clown.

"Grownups are the real monsters," he laments.

Director Andres Muschietti's nerve-jangling adaptation of King's hefty tome seizes on those words, even if it doesn't speak them aloud, by portraying the fictional town of Derry, Maine, as a hotbed of exploitation, abuse and degradation committed by adults on the young.

Menace leaches from every frame and the three screenwriters make our skin crawl by exposing the festering underbelly of a community that has stopped listening or caring.

The script sensibly cleaves the book by timeline.

This opening salvo - a caption reads It: Chapter 1 - is reset to the late 1980s to focus on the stories of seven children, whose lives are scarred by a malevolent presence that materialises as Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgard).

A second instalment, which should begin filming early next year, will jump forward to the present day to consider the impact on adult characters, who survive the carnival monstrosity.

Audiences emerging breathless from this nightmarish descent will be glad of some recovery time for their whitened knuckles.

In June 1989, seven tormented pre-teens bond as the Losers' Club, drawn together by mutual beatings at the hands of sadistic 15-year-old Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton).

"This summer's gonna be a hurt train," Henry promises his victims.

The stuttering leader of the Losers' Club, Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), bears the deepest and freshest wounds: his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) was dragged into Pennywise's subterranean lair the previous autumn.

Bill seeks balm for his grief in the company of fellow misfits Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Richie (Finn Wolfhard) and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff).

However, Pennywise intends to divide and conquer by feasting upon children's fears.

It is a stylish horror thriller that remains largely faithful to the source material, with notable omissions.

One character's inner turmoil about his sexuality and a controversial sex sequence in the sewers are cleanly excised.

Fans of Netflix series Stranger Things, which plunders merrily from King's oeuvre, will be giddy.

Not only does 14-year-old Wolfhard snag a flashy role, but Muschietti's film is steeped in nostalgia: posters of Beetlejuice and Gremlins on bedroom walls, a Walkman blasting out New Kids On The Block, a well-worn Airwolf T-shirt, and one angry boy belittling the sole girl in the gang by sniping, "Who invited Molly Ringwald into the group?"

Skarsgard is genuinely terrifying as a shape-shifting predator, who is deadly serious about clowning around.

Roll up for all the fun of the fair from hell. 810