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Psycho character
Norman Bates
Aliases: "Norma" Bates
"Normal" Bates
Gender: Male
Born: 1934
Race: Caucasian
Relationships: Mrs. Norma Bates (mother)
Mrs. Emma Spool (maternal aunt)
John Bates (father)
Dr. Constance "Connie" Forbes-Bates (wife)
Enemies: Women
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. 2013-2017)

Norman Bates is a fictional character created by writer Robert Bloch as the central character in his novel Psycho, and portrayed by Anthony Perkins as the villain of the 1960 film of the same name directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The character was inspired by serial killer Ed Gein.[1][2][3]

Book Biography[]

Film Biography[]

Psycho (1960)[]

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 sex is evil and that women (except herself) are whores. The two of them live alone together in a state of total codependence after the death of Bates' father. When Bates is a teenager, his mother takes a lover, Joe Considine, driving him over the edge with jealousy; Bates murders both of them with strychnine and preserves his mother's corpse. Bates develops dissociative identity disorder, assuming his mother's personality, repressing her death as a way to escape the guilt of 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.

Bates is finally arrested after he murders a young woman named Mary Crane (called Marion Crane in the film) and Milton Arbogast, a private investigator sent to look for her. Bates is declared insane and sent to an institution, where the "mother" personality completely takes hold; he essentially becomes his mother.

In Bloch's 1982 sequel to his novel, Bates fakes his death in a car accident while escaping from the asylum and heads to Hollywood, where a film based on his murders is in production.[4] 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.

Psycho II[]

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 Loomis, Marion's vengeful sister, 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.[5]

Psycho III[]

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.[6] Norman is then sent back to the institution.

Psycho IV: The Beginning[]

The final sequel, however, supplies that Bates' father was stung to death by bees, effectively retconning the revelation of Psycho III that Emma Spool killed Bates' father. It is still possible that his 'accident' was arranged by Emma Spool, but no such indication is made. In this film, Bates had been released from the institution, and is married to one of the hospital's nurses. When his wife becomes pregnant, however, he lures her to his mother's house and tries to kill her; he wants to prevent another of his "cursed" line from being born into the world. (The film implies that Bates' mother 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.[7]

Bates Motel[]

In the pilot episode of the failed TV series 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.[8]

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.[9]



Norman Bates dressed as his mother.

The character Norman Bates in Psycho was loosely based on two people. First was the real-life serial killer Ed Gein, about whom Bloch later wrote (1962) a fictionalised account, "The Shambles of Ed Gein". (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.[10]

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, homely, and more overtly unstable. 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."[11] In the novel, Norman 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 several actors in several adaptations:

  • Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock's seminal 1960 film adaptation of Bloch's novel and its three sequels. He also portrayed Norman Bates, albeit more lightheartedly, in a 1990 oatmeal commercial.[12]
  • Vince Vaughn in Gus Van Sant's 1998 remake
  • Kurt Paul in TV movie pilot Bates Motel
  • Henry Thomas in Psycho IV: The Beginning
  • Freddie Highmore in the 2013 TV series


Norman Bates is ranked as the second greatest villain on the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 film heroes and villains,[13] behind Hannibal Lecter and in front of 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.[14] In 2008, Norman Bates was selected by Empire Magazine as one of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters.[15] Bates also ranked number 4 on Premiere Magazine's list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.[16]



  1. Entertainment Weekly. The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. New York: Entertainment Weekly Books, 1999.
  2. CourtTV's Crime Library
  3. "Behind the Bates Motel" by Paula Guran
  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. Bates Motel
  9. Movie Maniac Comic Books
  10. [1]
  11. Leigh, Janet. Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller. Harmony Press, 1995. ISBN 051770112X.
  13. AFI's 100 YEARS...100 HEROES & VILLAINS
  14. AFI's 100 YEARS...100 MOVIE QUOTES