In the film, five strangers encounter the mysterious Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson) in a crypt, and he tells each in turn the manner of their death. Richardson's hooded Crypt Keeper, more somber than the EC original (as illustrated by Al Feldstein and Jack Davis), has a monk-like appearance and resembles EC's GhouLunatics. In the EC horror comics, the other horror hosts (the Old Witch and the Vault Keeper) wore hoods, while the Crypt Keeper did not.
The screenplay was adapted into a tie-in novel by Jack Oleck, Tales from the Crypt (Bantam, 1972). Oleck, who wrote the novel Messalina (1950), also scripted for EC's Picto-Fiction titles, Crime Illustrated, Shock Illustrated and Terror Illustrated. A sequel, The Vault of Horror, with a tie-in also written by Oleck, was released in 1973.
PlotFive strangers go with a tourist group to view old catacombs. Separated from the main group, they find themselves in a room with the mysterious Crypt Keeper, who details how each of the strangers will die.
...And All Through the House (The Vault of Horror #35) - After Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) kills her husband on Christmas Eve, she prepares to hide his body but hears a radio announcement stating that a homicidal maniac (Oliver MacGreevy) is on the loose. She sees the killer (who is dressed in a Santa Claus costume) outside her house but cannot call the police without exposing her own crimes. Believing the maniac to be Santa, Joanne's daughter unknowingly lets him into the house, and he apparently starts to strangle her to death.
Reflection of Death (Tales from the Crypt #23) - Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) abandons his family to be with Susan Blake (Angela Grant). After they drive off together, they are involved in a car accident. He wakes up in the wrecked car and attempts to hitchhike home, but no one will stop for him. Arriving at his house, he sees his wife (Susan Denny) with another man. He knocks on the door, but she screams and slams the door. He then goes to see Susan to find out that she is blind from the accident. She says that Carl died two years ago from the crash. Looking in a reflective tabletop he sees he has the face of a corpse. Carl then wakes up and finds out that it was a dream but the moment he does, the crash occurs as it did before.
Poetic Justice (The Haunt of Fear #12, March-April 1952) - Edward Elliott (David Markham) and his son James (Robin Phillips) are a snobbish pair who resent their neighbor, retired garbage man Arthur Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing) who owns a number of animals and entertains children in his house. To get rid of what they see as a blight on the neighborhood, they push Grimsdyke into a frenzy by conducting a smear campaign against him, first resulting in the removal of his beloved dogs (while one of them came back to him), and later exploiting parents' paranoiac fears about child molestation. On Valentine's Day, James sends Grimsdyke a number of poison-pen Valentines, supposedly from the neighbors, driving the old man to suicide. One year later, Grimsdyke comes back from the dead and takes revenge on James: the following morning, Edward finds his son dead with a note that says he was bad and that he had no heart-- the word "heart" represented by James' heart, torn from his body.
Wish You Were Here (The Haunt of Fear #22, November-December 1953), is a variation on W. W. Jacobs' famed short story "The Monkey's Paw." Ruthless businessman Ralph Jason (Richard Greene) is close to financial ruin. His wife Enid (Barbara Murray) discovers a Chinese figurine that says it will grant three wishes to whoever possesses it; Enid decides to wish for a fortune; surprisingly, it comes true, however, Ralph is killed on the way to his lawyer's office to collect it. The lawyer then advising Enid she will inherit a fortune from her deceased husband's life insurance plan. She uses her second wish to bring him back to the way he was just before the accident but learns that his death was due to a heart attack (caused by fright when he sees the figure of 'death' following him on a motorcycle). As she uses her final wish to bring him back alive and will live forever, she discovers that he was embalmed and that she has now trapped him in eternal pain.
Blind Alleys (Tales from the Crypt #46, February-March 1955), Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick), the new director of a home for the blind, makes drastic financial cuts, reducing heat and rationing food for the residents, while he lives in luxury with Shane, his Belgian Malinois. When he ignores complaints and a man dies due to the cold, the blind residents exact revenge by constructing in the basement a maze of narrow corridors lined with razor blades. They starve the Major's dog, place the Major in the maze's center, release the dog and turn off the basement lights.
After completing the final tale, the Crypt Keeper reveals that he was not warning them of what would happen, but telling them what had happened, they had all committed their various sins and died their various ways. Clues to this "twist" can be spotted throughout the film, including Joan Collins' character wearing the brooch her husband had given her for Christmas just before she killed him. The door to Hell opens, and the visitors all enter. "And now... who is next?" asks the Crypt Keeper, who then turns to face the camera and says, slowly and melodramatically, "Perhaps you?" Breaking the fourth wall.