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
1996 (Bates Motel only)
Race Caucasian
Relationships John/Sam Bates (father, deceased)
Norma Bates (mother, deceased)
Dylan Massett (half-brother/cousin; Bates Motel only)
Alex Romero (stepfather; Bates Motel only)
Emma Spool (maternal aunt, deceased)
Caleb Calhoun (maternal uncle; Bates Motel only)
Dr. Constance "Connie" Forbes-Bates (wife)
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, reflection)
Kurt Paul (Bates Motel)
Henry Thomas (Psycho IV: The Beginning, flashbacks)
Ryan Finnigan (Psycho IV: The Beginning, flashbacks)
Vince Vaughn (Psycho: 1998 remake)
Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel)

Norman Bates is a 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 and its sequels. The character was inspired by murderer Ed Gein.[1][2]

Character overview[edit]

Both the novel and Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film adaptation explain that Bates 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. After Bates' father died, Bates and his mother lived alone together "as if there was no one else in the world" until Bates reached adolescence, when his mother took a lover, Joe Considine (named Chet Rudolph in Psycho IV: The Beginning). Driven over the edge with jealousy, Bates murdered both of them with strychnine. After committing the murders, Bates forged a suicide note to make it look as if Norma had killed her lover 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 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 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 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.[3]

In Bloch's novels[edit]

In Bloch's novel, 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. "Mother" flies into a rage and threatens to kill Mary if he 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 beheads Mary (she stabs her to death in the film). 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 motel 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.[3]

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 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 Bates dies. Bates' psychiatrist, Dr. Adam Claiborne, discovers Bates' body and assumes his personality.[4] In the next book, Psycho House, Norman appears only as a novelty animatronic on display in the Bates Motel, which has been converted into a tourist attraction.

Film and television sequels[edit]

In Psycho II, the first sequel to the original film, Bates is released from the institution 22 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 Bates slowly loses his grip on sanity. The mysterious appearances and messages turn out to be a plot by Mary's mother Lila Crane (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 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 real mother, he kills her and embalms her body while assuming the "Mother" personality once again.[5]

In Psycho III, Bates 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 Bates kills when Duke tries to use the discovery to blackmail Bates. Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell), 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. He is then arrested and put back in the institution. 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.[6]

Psycho IV: The Beginning, the final film in the series, retcons the revelations of the second and third film, supplying that Bates' father was stung to death by bees and removing all references to Emma Spool. In this film, Bates 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 Norma 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, while the ghost of his mother demands to be let out. This was Anthony Perkins' final performance as Norman Bates; Henry Thomas portrayed Bates as a teenager.[7]

In the television movie and series pilot Bates Motel Bates 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, Bates 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.[9] As "Mother", he murders Blaire Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy), one of his teachers,[10] and Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz), his first sexual partner.[11] The series also introduces his maternal half-brother, Dylan Massett (Max Thieriot), and gives him a love interest in Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke), a classmate with cystic fibrosis.


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.[12]

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 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."[13] In the novel, Bates becomes "Mother" after getting drunk and passing out; in the movie, he remains sober before switching personalities.

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 commercial for Oatmeal Crisp cereal. Vince Vaughn portrayed Bates in Gus Van Sant's 1998 remake, while Kurt Paul took on the role in the made for TV version of 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 TV series Bates Motel.

Comic books[edit]

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: 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.[14]


Norman Bates is ranked as the second greatest villain on the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 film heroes and villains,[15] 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.[16] In 2008, Norman Bates was selected by Empire Magazine as one of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters.[17] Bates also ranked number 4 on Premiere magazine's list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.[18]


  1. ^ Entertainment Weekly. The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. New York: Entertainment Weekly Books, 1999.
  2. ^ Guran, Paula. "Behind the Bates Motel" 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. ^ "Unconscious". Bates Motel (TV series). Season 3. Episode 10. May 11, 2015. A&E. 
  12. ^ Conradt, Stacy. "A Boy's Best Friend is His Mother: Everything You Need to Know About Norman Bates"
  13. ^ Leigh, Janet. Psycho : Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller. Harmony Press, 1995. ISBN 0-517-70112-X.
  14. ^ Movie Maniac Comic Books
  15. ^ AFI's 100 YEARS...100 HEROES & VILLAINS
  16. ^ AFI's 100 YEARS...100 MOVIE QUOTES
  17. ^
  18. ^

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