Norman Bates

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For the bassist, see Norman Bates (musician). For the Medal of Honor recipient, see Norman F. Bates.
Psycho character
Norman Bates
Gender Male
Born March 7, 1934
Fairvale, California, U.S.
ca. 1996
Arizona, U.S. (Bates Motel only)
Race Caucasian
Spouse(s) Dr. Constance "Connle" Forbes-Bates (wife; film canon only)
Relationships John/Sam Bates (father, deceased)
Norma Bates (mother, deceased)
Robert Newman (twin brother; Bloch's novels only)
Dylan Massett (half-brother/cousin; Bates Motel only)
Alex Romero (stepfather; Bates Motel only)
Emma Spool (maternal aunt, deceased; film canon only)
Caleb Calhoun (maternal uncle; Bates Motel only)
M.O. Stabbing victims to death while wearing his mother's clothing.
Weapon of choice: Kitchen knife
Portrayed by: Anthony Perkins (Psycho - Psycho IV: The Beginning)
Oz Perkins (Psycho II, flashback)
Kurt Paul (Bates Motel)
Henry Thomas and Ryan Finnigan (Psycho IV: The Beginning, flashbacks)
Vince Vaughn (Psycho 1998))
Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel)

Norman Bates is a fictional character created by Robert Bloch as the main antagonist in his 1959 novel Psycho, and portrayed by Anthony Perkins as the principal antagonist of its 1960 film of the same name directed by Alfred Hitchcock, its sequels, and the television series Bates Motel portrayed by Freddie Highmore. He is a serial killer who preserves his mother's corpse, while becoming her. The character was inspired by Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein.[1][2]

Character overview[edit]

Both the novel and the 1960 film adaptation explain that Norman suffered severe emotional abuse as a child at the hands of his mother, Norma, who preached to him that sexual intercourse was sinful and that all women (except herself) were whores. The novel also suggests that their relationship may have been incestuous. After Norman's father, John Bates died, Norman and his mother lived alone together "as if there was no one else in the world" until Norman reached adolescence, when his mother met Joe Considine (Chet Rudolph in Psycho IV: The Beginning) and planned to marry. Considine convinced Norma to open a motel. Driven over the edge with jealousy, Norman murdered both of them with strychnine. After committing the murders, Norman forged a suicide note to make it look as if Norma had killed her fiancé and then herself. After a brief hospitalization for shock, he developed dissociative identity disorder, assuming his mother's personality to repress his awareness of her death and to escape the feelings of guilt for murdering her. He inherited his mother's house—where he kept her corpse—and the family motel in the (fictional) small town of Fairvale, California.

Bloch sums up Norman's 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 functional adult who goes through the motions of day-to-day life. "Norma" dominates and belittles "Norman" much as she had when she was alive, forbidding him to have friends and flying into violent rages whenever he feels attracted to a woman. "Norma" and "Norman" carry on conversations through Norman talking to himself in his mother's voice, and Norman dresses in his mother's clothes whenever "Norma" takes hold completely.[3]

In Bloch's novels[edit]

In Bloch's 1959 novel, Mary Crane (Marion in the film), a young woman on the run after stealing money from her employer, checks into the motel one night. Norman is smitten with her, and shyly asks her to have dinner with him in the house. "Mother" flies into a rage and threatens to kill Mary if he lets her in the house. Norman 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, Norman 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 beheads Mary (she stabs her to death in the film). When Norman 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 (he murdered two other women before Mary in the film). As "Mother", he also murders Milton Arbogast, a private detective hired by Mary's employer, days later.

Norman is finally caught when Mary's sister Lila and boyfriend, Sam Loomis, arrive at the motel looking for her. When Norman 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. Norman is declared insane and sent to an institution, where "Mother" takes complete, and permanent, control of Norman's mind: he becomes his mother.[3]

In Bloch's 1982 sequel to his novel, Norman escapes from the psychiatric hospital by killing a nun and donning her habit. Picked up as a hitchhiker, Norman tries to attack the driver with a tire iron, but the driver overpowers him. This in turn causes a fiery accident where the driver escapes, but Norman dies. Norman's psychiatrist, Dr. Adam Claiborne, discovers Norman's body and assumes his personality.[4] In Bloch's 1990 sequel to his second novel, Psycho House, Norman appears only as a novelty animatronic on display in the Bates Motel, which has been converted into a tourist attraction. In Bloch's 2016 prequel to his second novel, Psycho: Sanitarium, Norman is criminally insane as Dr. Felix Reed tries to bring him out of his catatonic state. Sanitarium introduces Robert Newman, Norman's twin brother who was taken away at birth after the attending doctor pronounced him brain damaged. As Robert and Norman grow to know each other, Norman senses a darkness in Robert, even deeper then that which has lurked in Norman himself.

Film and television sequels[edit]

In 1983's Psycho II, the first sequel to the original film, Norman is released from the institution twenty-two years after his arrest, seemingly cured. He meets Mary Loomis (Meg Tilly)—Marion Crane's niece—and falls in love with her. However, a series of mysterious murders occurs, as well as strange appearances and messages from "Mother", and Norman slowly loses his grip on sanity. The mysterious appearances and messages turn out to be a plot by Mary's mother, Lila Loomis, (Vera Miles) to drive him insane again in order to get him recommitted. The actual murders turn out to be the work of Norma's sister, Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar). Before Norman discovers this, however, Mary Loomis is shot dead by the police during a confrontation with Norman, and Spool murders Lila. When Spool tells Norman that she is his real mother, he kills her and embalms her body while assuming the "Mother" personality once again.[5]

In 1986's Psycho III, Norman continues to struggle, unsuccessfully, against "Mother"'s dominion. He also finds another love interest named Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid), who eventually dies at "Mother"'s hand. In the film, Mrs. Spool's body is first discovered by sleazy musician Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey), whom Norman kills when Duke tries to use the discovery to blackmail Norman. Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell), a reporter interested in Norman's case, finds out the truth about Spool. "Mother" orders Norman to kill Tracy, but in the end he attacks "Mother"'s corpse violently, attempting to break free of her control. He is then arrested and put back in the institution. During the last few minutes of the movie, Tracy tells Norman that Emma Spool was his aunt, not his mother, and had killed his father in a jealous rage. Apparently, she had fallen for Norman's father, who was taken away by her sister Norma and, when Norma had given birth to Norman, kidnapped the child, believing he was her son.[6]

1990's Psycho IV: The Beginning, the final film in the series, retcons the revelations of the second and third film, supplying that Norman's father was stung to death by bees and removing all references to Emma Spool. In this film, Norman has been released from an institution, and is married to one of the hospital's psychologists, a woman named Connie (Donna Mitchell). When his wife becomes pregnant, 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 Mrs. Bates (Olivia Hussey) suffered from schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder and passed the illnesses on to her son. However, he relents at the last minute, when Connie 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, finally free of his mother's voice, which demands to be let out. This was Anthony Perkins' final performance as Norman Bates; Henry Thomas portrayed Norman as a teenager.[7]

In the 1987 television movie and series pilot Bates Motel, Norman is never released from the institution after his first incarceration. He befriends Alex West (Bud Cort), a fellow inmate who had murdered his stepfather, and wills ownership of the titular motel to him before dying of old age.[8]

The TV series Bates Motel, a contemporary prequel to the 1960 film, premiered on March 18, 2013, on A&E. Set in the present day, it depicts the young Norman Bates' (Freddie Highmore) life with his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga). In this continuity, Norman suffers from hallucinations and blackouts, and begins manifesting his "Mother" personality as a teenager. He kills his abusive father, Sam (David Cubitt), while in a dissociative state, causing Norma to move them from Arizona, where he was born and raised, to White Pine Bay, Oregon, to protect him.[9] As "Mother", he murders Blaire Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy), one of his teachers who seduces him,[10] and love interest, Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz), a girl he has feelings for.[citation needed] The series also introduces his maternal half-brother/cousin, Dylan Massett (Max Thieriot), his maternal uncle and Dylan's father, Caleb Calhourn (Kenny Johnson), and gives him another love interest in Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke), a classmate with cystic fibrosis, whose mother, Audrey Ellis (Karina Logue), was also murdered by Norman.[citation needed] After Norma marries Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell), the Sheriff of White Pine Bay, Norman, wanting his mother all to his own, releases carbon monoxide into the house to kill his mother and himself, but is rescued by Romero, who fails to revive Norma.[citation needed]

Characterization[edit]

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 fictionalized 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.[11]

The characterization of Norman Bates in the novel and the movie differ in some key areas. In the novel, Norman is in his mid-to-late 40s, short, overweight and homely. In the movie, he is in his mid-20s, tall, slender, and handsome. Reportedly, when working on the film, Hitchcock decided that he wanted audiences to be able to sympathize with Norman and genuinely like the character, so he made him more of a "boy next door".[12] In the novel, Norman becomes "Mother" after getting drunk and passing out; in the movie, he remains sober before switching personalities.

In the novel, Norman 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.

Portrayals[edit]

Norman 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, including the instructional video "The Norman Bates School of Motel Management". He also portrayed Norman, albeit more lightheartedly, in a 1990 commercial for Oatmeal Crisp cereal. Vince Vaughn portrayed Norman in Gus Van Sant's 1998 remake, while Kurt Paul, Perkins' "Mother" stunt double in Psycho II and Psycho III, took on the role in the made for TV film spin-off Bates Motel. Oz Perkins, Anthony's son, portrayed a younger version of Norman in Psycho II. Henry Thomas played a younger version of the character in Psycho IV: The Beginning. Freddie Highmore portrays a younger version of Norman in the TV series Bates Motel.

Comic books[edit]

Norman appears in the 1992 three-issue comic book adaptation of the 1960 film Psycho 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: a middle-aged, 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.[13]

Reception[edit]

Norman Bates is ranked as the second greatest villain on the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 film heroes and villains,[14] 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.[15] In 2008, Norman Bates was selected by Empire Magazine as one of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters.[16] Bates also ranked number 4 on Premiere magazine's list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.[17]

Appearances[edit]

Novels[edit]

Films[edit]

Television[edit]

Comics[edit]

  • Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, (1992)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Entertainment Weekly. The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. New York: Entertainment Weekly Books, 1999.
  2. ^ Guran, Paula. "Behind the Bates Motel" darkecho.com. August 1999.
  3. ^ a b Bloch, Robert (1959). Psycho. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1590203354. 
  4. ^ Bloch, Robert (1982). Psycho II. Whisper Press. ISBN 0-918372-08-9. 
  5. ^ Richard Franklin (Director) (1983-06-03). Psycho II (DVD). United States: Universal Pictures. 
  6. ^ Anthony Perkins (Director) (1986-07-02). Psycho III (DVD). United States: Universal Pictures. 
  7. ^ Mick Garris (Director) (1990-11-10). Psycho IV: The Beginning (DVD). United States: Universal Television. 
  8. ^ Richard Rothstein (Director) (1987-07-05). Bates Motel (DVD). United States: Universal Television]
  9. ^ "The Truth". Bates Motel (TV series). Season 1. Episode 6. April 22, 2013. A&E. 
  10. ^ "Midnight". Bates Motel (TV series). Season 1. Episode 10. May 13, 2013. A&E. 
  11. ^ Conradt, Stacy. "A Boy's Best Friend is His Mother: Everything You Need to Know About Norman Bates" mentalfloss.com.
  12. ^ Leigh, Janet. Psycho : Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller. Harmony Press, 1995. ISBN 0-517-70112-X.
  13. ^ Movie Maniac Comic Books
  14. ^ AFI's 100 YEARS...100 HEROES & VILLAINS
  15. ^ AFI's 100 YEARS...100 MOgenerated title -->
  16. ^ http://www.empireonline.com/100-greatest-movie-characters/default.asp?c=80
  17. ^ http://www.filmsite.org/100characters4.html

External links[edit]