Directed by Marcus Nispel, starring Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Erica Leerhsen, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour, R Lee Ermey and Andrew Bryniarski.

It's one of 2003's big surprises: a horror film that's scary. And as well as being a horror film that's scary, it manages to honour the original without being a complete rip-off. Marcus Nispel, in your debut feature, you have succeeded where hundreds have failed.

It's August 1973 and five teenagers are travelling the Texas backroads. There's the sensible Erin (Biel), driver boyfriend Kemper (Balfour), the nerdy Morgan (Tucker), tough guy Andy (Vogel) and hippy Pepper (Leerhsen) - all on their way back from Mexico with two pounds of grass and tickets to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. But the gang's joint-induced giddiness gets a massive comedown when they almost hit a young woman, walking dazed in the middle of the road. Helping her in to the van, they can barely make sense of what she's saying - something about bad happenings and then hysteria as she tells them they're going the wrong way. And that's the last warning the five get before the horror begins…

Audiences constantly reminisce about the great films of the 70s, and when you look at the honour role, you notice they all had one thing in common: the coolness started from the title up. Witness 'The French Connection', 'Dog Day Afternoon', 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', 'The Exorcist' and arguably the most iconic of them all, 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre'. In the days before video chains took over and it ended up on banned lists, you'd see the black and red cover on the never-to-be-reached top shelf, its tagline ("who will survive...and what will be left of them?") enough to start the nightmares. Tobe Hooper's 1974 debut (and he never bettered it) was nasty, hot and grainy but also ahead of its time. It predated the maniac on the rampage genre kickstarted by 'Halloween' and its disquieting documentary feel would become a staple of both mainstream and horror cinema.

While Nispel's film could never compete with that sense of history, it has that rare quality of not thinking too much of itself but knowing exactly what it is capable of. With the exception of - another remake - 'The Ring', this is the best shocker of the year, cerebral only in the gore sense yet possessed of a sense of menace right from the first moment. And all the credit shouldn't go to Nispel because director of photography Daniel Pearl, who shot the original too, and production designer Gregory Blair are also responsible for a film that will make you want to wash your hands afterwards.

Best known for her role as older daughter Mary in the wholesome after-tea-entertainment of 'Seventh Heaven', Jessica Biel does a good job as chainsaw-wielding bad boy Leatherface's toughest quarry. And while for half the film it appears the camera was broken and couldn't go higher than her midriff, she proves herself to be useful with both vocal chords and cleaver and an action hero in waiting. Indeed, everyone is perfectly cast here: from R Lee Ermey as the disgusting redneck sheriff to Leatherface's mutant clan - they look so good they don't even need lines.

Definitely not for the squeamish, easily scared or fans of 'Seventh Heaven'. But in a week which sees 'Alien' re-released, this deserves to do just as much business. There can be no higher accolade.

Harry Guerin