I’ll never forget when I first watched The Exorcist. It was the morning after a bunch of us spent the night at a middle school friend’s house. Her mom had left for work, and our parents wouldn’t be picking us up for another few hours. I sat enveloped by an 80s-style velvet sofa, with my feet grazing the family room’s plush carpet, and the afternoon sun streaming in through the vertical blinds. As we watched the iconic horror film, I knew I’d never forget the pea soup vomit, the obscene anti-religious scenes, or the pingy little theme song.

But I also knew that I’d missed out on something. Raised in the special effects of the 90s, a part of me knew that when my older siblings watched the film just ten years prior, they didn’t notice the mechanical way Regan’s head turned on her body, the awkward sound mixing that made her possessed voice fall far short of believable, or the painfully slow pace. While The Exorcist was the ultimate horror film of a generation, I knew some of its true beauty would be forever lost on me.

I felt the same when I saw the original It, the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s book. Confession: I hadn’t seen it until this year. I’d always skipped over the title simply because I never found clowns to be that scary. But in anticipation of this fall’s full-length feature film, I knew I had to see the original. Let me tell you, watching that film 17 years after its release didn’t help. The plot felt slow, I found the adult storylines annoying, and I wasn’t the least bit scared of Pennywise the Clown or his caked-on makeup.

If you’re still with me and all of this horror film blasphemy hasn’t made you throw your computer or phone out the window, then you would be thrilled to hear that director Andy Muschietti’s 2017 It masterfully modernizes an old classic, remaining true to the original for the diehard fans, and renewing it exquisitely for the next generation.

The film opens with young Bill building a boat for his even younger brother, Georgie. While in the book, this timeline is set in the middle of the century, the new film brings us up to 1988, smartly making it relatable and even a smidge nostalgic for those of us born in the decade before the internet, when summers on bikes and in overalls were all we knew. But Muschietti’s fun vintage costuming and peaceful suburban scenes even make the film hipster-cool for Generation Z—you know, the kids who couldn’t name one NSYNC song if their lives depended on it, but who are now all wearing members only jackets and acid-wash jeans.

The film continues with the iconic scene from the original, as Georgie heads out into the rain to test the boat, and is tempted toward a storm drain by a white-faced red-nosed clown. But although most people in the audience know the clown will devour the poor kid, we are given a much grislier version of this scene than in the original, setting the stage early on for a new generation of scares to come.

Cut to the next summer, and we meet Bill’s other friends—a rag-tag gang of self-labeled “losers,” each with their own fears and obstacles to face, bound together by their shared enemy—a group of older bullies. They soon welcome a new kid who’s a bit on the chunkier side, a girl with a bad reputation, and a boy who they rescue one day from the bullies. But the traditional coming-of-age themes are punctuated by terrifying scenes as each kid encounters a hateful being – It – in their own way. The entity shows them their worst fears and often also takes the form of Pennywise the Clown—an overly-made-up circus clown with the mouth of a lamprey. As the team learns more about the history of missing kids in the town, and as they piece together their terrifying experiences, the Losers’ Club soon realizes that It is feeding every few decades—on children. Together, they seek to put an end to It’s awful appetite once and for all.

This film hits the nail on the head so masterfully because it keeps everything that made the original so great, while improving where it faltered. Muschietti keeps the classic coming-of-age themes, throwback references to a simpler time, and scares that still give my generation the jitters (“They all float down here”). He even managed to find a group of kids that can act brilliantly without distracting from the storyline, which is especially difficult to accomplish in a horror flick (special shoutouts to the hilarious Finn Wolfhard, the enchanting Sophia Lillis, and the delightful Jeremy Ray Taylor). But in a way fitting for 2017, the scares are meaner, more frightening, and more relatable, without any over-the-top obnoxious special effects. For those of you terrified of clowns, this is your film, but for those of you who, like me, yawn at the puffy red hair and fringed costume, there’s plenty of scares in here for you too—ghosts who come out of paintings, zombie-like beings, and rooms soaked in blood.

And although this may give a bit too much away about what’s new in this remake—spoiler alert—I absolutely have to share my favorite part about this new version: no adult storylines! That’s right, no older versions of these kids with crappy jobs flashing back to memories of It. Nope, we are fully immersed in the kids’ storyline. Think Now and Then without the “now,” plus, like, Freddy Krueger. I mean, come on, what could be more perfect?

Ultimately, Muschietti, who slayed with his work in one of my favorites, Mama, fills some pretty big shoes here, and frankly, busts out of them at the seams. It is easily the frontrunner for best horror film of 2017.

SpecialK Verdict: See It. No really, see it. Whether or not you loved the original, and whether or not clowns give you the creeps, if you have a bone in your body that craves an excellent scary film, drop what you’re doing and go see It.

It opened September 8. 

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