Norman Bates  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Norman Bates is a fictional character created by writer Robert Bloch as the main character in his novel Psycho, and portrayed by Anthony Perkins as the primary antagonist of the 1960 film of the same name directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The character was inspired by murderer Ed Gein.


Character overview

Both the novel and Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film adaptation explain that Bates suffers severe emotional abuse as a child at the hands of his mother, Norma, who preaches to him that sexual intercourse is sinful and that all women (except herself) are whores. After Bates' father dies, Bates and his mother live alone together until Bates reaches adolescence, when his mother takes a lover, Joe Considine (named Chet Rudolph in Psycho IV: The Beginning). Driven over the edge with jealousy, Bates murders both of them with strychnine. After committing the murders, Bates forges a suicide note to make it look as if Norma had killed her lover and then herself. After a brief hospitalization for shock, he develops dissociative identity disorder, assuming her personality to repress his awareness of her death and to escape the feelings of guilt for murdering her. He inherits his mother's house — where he keeps her corpse — and the family motel in fictional Fairvale, California.

Bloch sums up Bates' multiple personalities in his stylistic form of puns: "Norman", a child dependent on his mother; "Norma", a possessive mother who kills anyone who threatens the illusion of her existence; and "Normal", a (barely) functional adult who goes through the motions of day-to-day life. "Norma" dominates "Norman" much as she had when she was alive, forbidding him to have any friends and flying into violent rages whenever he feels attracted to a woman. "Norma" and "Norman" carry on conversations through Bates talking to himself in his mother's voice, and Bates dresses in his mother's clothes whenever "Norma" takes hold completely.

In Bloch's novels

In Hitchcock's film adaptation, Mary Crane (called Marion in the film), a young woman on the run after stealing from her employer, checks into the motel one night. Bates is smitten with her, and shyly asks her to have dinner with him in the house, provoking "Mother's" jealousy; she flies into a rage and threatens to kill Mary if Bates lets her in the house. Bates defies her and eats dinner with Mary anyway, but lashes out at her when she suggests that he institutionalize his mother. When Mary goes to her room to shower, Bates spies on her through a peephole he drilled in the wall, and drinks until he passes out. While he is unconscious, "Mother" takes control and stabs Mary to death (in the novel, "Mother" actually beheads Mary). When Bates awakes to discover what he believes his mother has done, he sinks Mary's car — with her corpse in the trunk — into a nearby swamp. As "Mother", he also murders Milton Arbogast, a private detective hired by Mary's employer, days later.

Bates is finally caught when Mary's sister Lila and boyfriend, Sam Loomis, arrive at the hotel looking for her. When Bates figures out what they want, he knocks Sam out and goes running after Lila, who has reached the house and found Mrs. Bates' corpse. He attacks her as "Mother", but Sam overpowers him, and he is finally arrested. Bates is declared insane and sent to an institution, where "Mother" takes complete, and permanent, control of Bates' mind; he becomes his mother.

In Bloch's 1982 sequel to his novel, Bates escapes from the psychiatric hospital by killing a nun and donning her habit. Picked up as a hitchhiker, Bates is overcome by the driver of the car as he tries to attack him with a tire iron. This in turn causes a fiery accident where the driver escapes, but Bates dies. Bates's psychiatrist, Dr. Adam Claiborne, discovers Bates' body and assumes his personality. In the next book, Psycho House, Norman appears only as a novelty animatronic on display in the Bates Hotel, which has been converted into a tourist attraction.

Film and television sequels

In the sequel to the original film, Bates is released from the institution 22 years after his arrest, seemingly cured, and he meets Mary Loomis — Marion Crane's niece — with whom he falls in love. However, a series of mysterious murders occurs, as well as strange appearances and messages from "Mother", and Bates slowly loses his grip on sanity. The mysterious appearances and messages turn out to be a plot by Lila Crane to drive him insane again in order to get him recommitted. The actual murders turn out to be the work of his aunt — Norma's sister, Emma Spool — who shares the family's history of mental illness and claims to be Norman's real mother. Before Bates discovers this, however, Mary Loomis is shot dead by the police during a confrontation with Bates, and Spool murders Lila. When Spool tells Bates that she is his mother, he kills her and embalms her body while assuming the "Mother" personality once again.

In the third film, Bates continues to struggle, unsuccessfully, against "Mother"'s dominion. He also finds another love interest named Maureen Coyle, who eventually dies at "Mother"'s hand. In the film Mrs. Spool's body is first discovered by sleazy musician Duane Duke, whom Bates kills when Duke tries to use the discovery to blackmail Bates. Tracy Venable, a reporter interested in Bates' case, finds out the truth about Spool. "Mother" orders Bates to kill Venable, but in the end he attacks "Mother"'s corpse violently, attempting to break free of her control, as well as getting revenge at "Mother" for killing Maureen. He is again institutionalized. During the last few minutes of the movie, Venable tells Bates that Emma Spool was his aunt, not his mother, and had killed his father. Apparently, she had fallen for Bates' father and, when Norma Bates had given birth to Norman, kidnapped the child, believing he was her son.

The final sequel, however, supplies that Bates' father was stung to death by bees. In this film, Bates has been released from an institution, and is married to one of the hospital's psychologists . When his wife becomes pregnant, however, he lures her to his mother's house and tries to kill her, wanting to prevent another of his "cursed" line from being born into the world. (The film implies that Norma Bates suffered from schizophrenia and passed the illness on to him.) He relents at the last minute, however, when his wife professes her love for him. He then burns the house down in an attempt to free himself of his past. During the attempt, he is tormented by hallucinations of "Mother" and several of his victims; he almost dies in the flames before willing himself to get out, apparently defeating his illness at long last, while the ghost of his mother demands to be let out.

In the television movie and failed series pilot Bates Motel, Bates is never released from the institution after his first incarceration. He befriends Alex West, a fellow inmate who had murdered his stepfather, and wills ownership of the titular motel to him before dying of old age. This film was made before the film Psycho IV: The Beginning. Anthony Perkins refused involvement with it.

The spinoff TV series Bates Motel premiered on March 18, 2013, on A&E. It depicts the life of Norman and his mother before the events of the first film and is set in the modern day. This series also introduces Norman's half-brother, Dylan Massett.


The character Norman Bates in Psycho was loosely based on two people. First was the real-life murderer Ed Gein, about whom Bloch later wrote a fictionalised account, "The Shambles of Ed Gein", in 1962. (The story can be found in Crimes and Punishments: The Lost Bloch, Volume 3). Second, it has been indicated by several people, including Noel Carter (wife of Lin Carter) and Chris Steinbrunner, as well as allegedly by Bloch himself, that Norman Bates was partly based on Calvin Beck, publisher of Castle of Frankenstein.

The characterization of Bates in the novel and the movie differ in some key areas. In the novel, Bates is in his mid-to-late 40s, short, overweight and homely. In the movie, he is in his early-to-mid-20s, tall, slender, and handsome. Reportedly, when working on the film, Hitchcock decided that he wanted audiences to be able to sympathize with Bates and genuinely like the character, so he made him more of a "boy next door." In the novel, Bates becomes "Mother" after getting drunk and passing out; in the movie, he remains sober before switching personalities. Finally, in the novel Mary Crane is "Mother"'s first victim, whereas in the film and its sequels, it is revealed that "Mother" had killed twice before.

In the novel, Bates is well-read in occult and esoteric authors such as P.D. Ouspensky and Aleister Crowley. He is aware that "Mother" disapproves of these authors as being against religion.


Bates was portrayed by Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock's seminal 1960 film adaptation of Bloch's novel and its three sequels. Perkins hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live in 1976 in which he performed numerous sketches portraying Norman Bates, including the instructional video "The Norman Bates School of Motel Management." He also portrayed Norman, albeit more lightheartedly, in a 1990 oatmeal commercial. Vince Vaughn portrayed Bates in Gus Van Sant's 1998 remake, while Kurt Paul took on the role in Bates Motel. Henry Thomas played a younger version of the character in Psycho IV: The Beginning. Freddie Highmore portrays a younger version of Bates in the prequel series to Psycho, Bates Motel.

Bates was also portrayed by B.O.B in Tech N9ne's song "Am I A Psycho".

A motel named the Norman Bates Motel is currently in operation in Tacoma, Washington.

Comic books

Norman appears in the 1992 three-issue comic book adaptation of the first Psycho film released by Innovation Publishing. Despite being a colorized adaptation of the Hitchcock film, the version of Norman present in the comics resembles the one from Bloch's original novel: an older, overweight, balding man. Comic artist Felipe Echevarria has explained that this was due to Perkins' refusal to allow his likeness to be replicated for the books, wanting to disassociate himself with Norman Bates.


Norman Bates is ranked as the second greatest villain on the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 film heroes and villains, behind Hannibal Lecter and before Darth Vader. His line "A boy's best friend is his mother" also ranks as number 56 on the institute's list of the 100 greatest movie quotes. In 2008, Norman Bates was selected by Empire Magazine as one of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters. Bates also ranked number 4 on Premiere Magazine's list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Norman Bates" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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