Norma Bates, Normal Bates
Owner of the Bates Motel
Powers / Skills
Emulate his deceased mother's persona to make it seem as if she's still alive
Type of Villain
Serial Killer, Tragic Villain
|“||She just goes, a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes.||„|
|~ Norman Bates|
|“||A boy's best friend is his mother||„|
|~ Norman Bates' famous quote|
Norman Bates [born August 1934] was an American serial killer and keeper of The Bates Motel in California. Bates suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder and psychotic behavior, believing himself to be his controlling Mother. At the same time he suffered from visual and auditory hallucinations, in which his mother apparently talked him into committing acts of violence in order to appease her. When the Mother personality took over, Bates would fly into murderous rages targeting women who aroused him, usually whilst dressed in her clothing. He is known to have eventually killed his mother and kept her mummified corpse in the basement of his house for many years. He is the primary antagonist of the 1959 suspense novel Psycho and the 1960 film of the same name, and its three sequels. Norman's incestuous relationship with his mother is an exaggerated interpretation of the human Oedipus Complex.
He is portrayed by:
- Anthony Perkins (1960)
- Vince Vaughn (1998 Remake)
A 2013 syndicated TV series, entitled Bates Motel, retcons much of Bates' back story and explores his teenage years in a modern setting. Although technically a prequel, the show should be considered more of a reimagining. The young Norman Bates is portrayed by Freddie Highmore.
Norman Bates was born in August 1934 just outside of Fairvale, California, to John Bates and Norma Spool. Norma was a manipulative and controlling woman who did not allow Norman to have a social life. She was deeply religious and paranoid, possibly suffering from a severe form schizophrenia. Norma indoctrinated her son and taught him sexuality was a sin and that all women, besides herself, were whores. In 1940, when Norman was six years old, his father was stung to death by bees. Following his death, Norma began to practise sadistic control over her son, and on several occasions throughout his puberty sexually aroused him on purpose, only to punish and humiliate him afterwards. As a result of Norma's overbearing control and obscene sexual smothering, Norman developed an extreme Oedipus Complex. Later in his adult life, Norman confessed to having had full sexual intercourse with Norma when he was a teenager, with one particular instance resulting in her becoming pregnant. Norma became repulsed by the idea that she was carrying the child, and conducted an abortion.
In 1949, Norma became romantically involved with Chet Rudolph whom she would eventually marry. It would be Chet who would give her the idea of opening a motel. Around this time, Norman had a heated argument with her whilst hanging some washing, during which she called him a mistake and expressed extreme hatred towards him. Her new husband was crude, egotistical, chauvinistic and repeatedly teased Norman over his relationship with Norma. Chet would repeatedly allude to his sex life with Norma in conversation. Over time Norman became extremely jealous of Chet, and on a summer night in 1949 Norman poisoned Norma and Chet's ice tea with arsenic, killing them both. Chet did not go down easily, and ended up attacking Norman whilst in the throes of agonising arsenic poisoning, eventually succumbing to the toxin and falling down the stairs to his death. After both Chet and Norma had died, he dragged Norma's corpse to the basement and embalmed it.
As Norman matured into a young adult, he began to emulate Norma, believing himself on occasion to be her, even going so far as wearing her clothes and a wig. He would sometimes sit in her chair and speak in her voice, doing anything to convince himself that she was still alive. During this period, he took over ownership of the Bates Motel.
Norman had several unsuccessful sexual encounters with women as a young man, with at least two known to have resulted in murder after they aroused him. One of his early victims, a teenager called Holly, sneaked into his house and accidentally wandered into his mother's bedroom, where she found Norma's mummified corpse lying on the bed. Recoiling in horror, she was soon stabbed to death by Norman, who was hiding in the closet dressed in women's clothing and a wig. Norman would later strangle and drown another teenage girl under similar circumstances.
The "Mother" personality in his head eventually would become so overbearing as to consume him completely, taking over his body and committing terrible acts of violence and murder. When the Mother persona subsided, normally after committing a murder, Norman would remember very little of the act of killing, and become highly distressed and remorseful, sometimes even baffled as to where evidence such as blood and torn clothing came from. Mother is cold, calculated and panther-like, however when Norman is caught off guard and still "himself," he is clumsy, stammering and very panicked.
Adult Life & First Killing Spree [Psycho]
In December 1960, realty clerk Marion Crane fled Phoenix, Arizona, having stolen forty thousand dollars worth of her employers money, and stopped off at the Bates Motel for a night. She had stolen the money to help pay off large debts accrued by her lover Sam Loomis, with whom she was having an affair. It was a stormy night, and Norman allowed Marion to stay in Cabin 1 at the motel. Norman found he was attracted to young Marion, and after watching her shower through a small hole he had drilled in the cabin wall, donned Norma's clothing, stormed into the bathroom, and stabbed her to death in the bathtub with a large kitchen knife. Wrapping up her body in a shower curtain, he would later stuff it into the trunk of Marion's car, and push the vehicle into a nearby swamp.
Shortly after Marion's murder, her absence is reported to the police by her sister Lila and a detective named Arbogast locates the Bates Motel and questions Norman about Marion. He lies to Arbogast and denies ever having met her nor giving her lodgings. Arbogast is not convinced by Norman's story, and later breaks into the Bates house in search of clues, where he is murdered by Norman, once again dressed as a woman.
Lila, and indeed Marion's lover Sam Loomis, soon become concerned when Arbogast fails to report back to them, and head to Fairvale where they visit the local Sheriff, who had spoken to Arbogast just prior to his disappearance. The Sheriff tells Lila and Sam that he was puzzled by Arbogast, who said he had intended to visit Norma Bates at some point during the investigation, despite the knowledge that she had been dead for some time. Sam and Lila rent a room from Norman, and find evidence in Cabin 1 confirming that Marion had been there.
Sam decides to enter the Bates house, where he is subdued, but not killed, by Norman. Lila in the meantime sneaks into the basement, and finds Norma's dessicated corpse sat in a rocking chair. Dressed in women's clothing, Norman appears in the basement and attacks Lila, but is prevented from killing her by Sam who comes to the rescue.
Norman is arrested and incarcerated in a mental institution, where he would remain for 22 years. A psychiatrist declares Norman insane, and apparently completely dominated by the Mother personality of his psyche. Police later discover Marion's car under water, and drag it from the swamp.
Release From Prison & Second Killing Spree [Psycho II]
After a lengthy court hearing, Norman was released from custody in 1983 after 22 years. Despite protests from relatives of his victims, including Lila Crane, a judge rules Norman to be rehabilitated and orders his release. Accompanied by his psychiatrist Dr. Bill Raymond, Norman returns to his family home which he finds is just how he left it. The motel is still open, being run by the slobbish and obtuse Warren Toomey. Norman gets a job at a local diner run by the kindly Emma Spool, and gets to work in the kitchen preparing meals. He is met with distrust by many, but is generally accepted by Mrs Spool and the head chef. He becomes friendly with the waitress Mary Samuels, a girl in her late teens whom he allows to stay at the motel one night after an argument with her boyfriend. Upon arrival back at the motel with Mary, Norman discovers that Toomey has been allowing prostitutes and drug users on the premises, and dismisses him on the spot. He tells Mary to go up to the house while he deals with Toomey. Despite her reluctance, she goes anyway.
Back at the house, Norman prepares a sandwich for Mary, but becomes unnerved when he finds a kitchen knife in a drawer. Sensing Norman's unease, Mary becomes uncomfortable and decides to leave. Norman reveals to Mary that he is lonely and would appreciate her company if she stays, and makes light of the fact that he killed his mother by poisoning her all those years ago. Mary laughs along nervously, and eventually stays the night in the spare room.
The next morning, a drunken Toomey picks a fight with Norman whilst he is working in the kitchen, and later follows him back to the motel, where a dark figure slashes his face and then kills him. Meanwhile, Norman starts getting bizarre phonecalls from a woman claiming to be his mother, and ends up seeing the spectre of her looking out of the bedroom window one day. He runs up to the bedroom, where he finds that it is furnished how it used to be two decades ago. Moments later, somebody locks him inside. A short while later, a teenage couple break into the basement to have sex, and are disturbed by a dark figure in women's clothing. The male is murdered, however the female manages to escape.
After a suspicious note is found in the diner kitchen, allegedly from mother, Norman starts to believe that he is slipping back into insanity. Meanwhile Lila Crane arrives in Fairview and it is revealed that Mary is Lila's daughter. She chastises Mary for her friendship with Norman, and in a private conversation between the two it is revealed that Lila had been toying with Norman, making the phonecalls, dressing up as his mother and even went as far as furnishing Norma's bedroom in an attempt to drive Norman to the edge again. Mary is revealed to have been complicit in this, but shows regret at being involved, much to Lila's annoyance.
Lila then becomes focused on the alleged death of the teenage boy at Norman's house, after hearing of the missing person report filed by his terrified girlfriend. Sheriff Hunt refuses to investigate apparent connection to Norman due to the lack of evidence, adding to Lila's dismay. Despite Lila's apparent complicity, the strange goings on continue at the Bates house, with the line between reality and insanity becoming increasingly blurred when Lila is herself murdered by a dark figure whilst in the process of donning her Norma outfit.
Mary is present when the police discover Toomey's body stuffed into the trunk of his car, and runs to warn Norman that the police are on the way to arrest him as a suspect. She finds Norman having a psychotic episode at the house; he is on the phone talking to his psychiatrist, yet believes he is talking to Norma. Fearful that he may be spiralling back into madness, Mary dons Norma's clothes and pretends to be her in an attempt to have him snap out of it. Whilst talking to Norman on another house phone, she is surprised by Dr Raymond, and accidentally stabs and kills him. Norman meanwhile can no longer cope and fails to distinguish between what is real and what is not.
Mary ultimately becomes the one and only suspect in the killings, when she is caught red-handed by the police whilst appearing to intend to stab Norman. She is shot dead, and the case is closed with her named as the murderer. Norman's involvement remained unsolved, as he was never able to differentiate between reality and his visual and auditory hallucinations.
Learning the Truth
Some time after Mary's death at the hands of the police, Norman's former boss Emma Spool paid him a visit and confessed to him that she was his real mother, with Norma having been actually his auntie who looked after him whilst she was institutionalized. Norman was too young to remember the transition, and had always assumed Norma was his mother. Emma had been the true killer, having murdered Toomey, Arbogast and the young boy who entered the basement, trying to protect Norman from any harm. As Emma sat and explained everything to him, Norman murdered her with a shovel and took her body upstairs to embalm it, creating a new mother effigy for himself.
Third Killing Spree & Second Incarceration [Psycho III]
Approximately one month after killing Emma Spool, Norman encountered, and became infatuated with, defrocked nun Maureen Coyle, who had fled her convent after having accidentally killed a fellow nun whilst trying to take her own life. Around the same time, Norman employed aspiring musician Duane Duke as a desk clerk at the motel, without realizing that Duke and Coyle had met some days before on the highway, and Duke had tried to rape her. Norman gives Coyle an extended stay for no fee in Cabin 1, but becomes increasingly unnerved at her resemblance to Marion Crane, especially when he realizes they share the same initials. After watching her shower through the spy hole in the wall, Norman assumes his Mother disguise and proceeds to kill her, however upon arriving in the bathroom finds that Maureen has run herself a bath and attempted suicide by cutting her wrists. As she fades into unconsciousness, she sees Norman's disguise, but does not stay awake long enough to realize it is him. Instead, she has a hallucination of her own, seeing Norman as the Virgin Mary. Norman snaps out of his persona and takes Maureen to the hospital for treatment.
Meanwhile a pushy reporter, Tracy Venable, arrives in Fairvale to investigate the disappearance of Emma Spool, convinced, as Lila Crane was similarly convinced, that Norman had killed her and is still a threat to society. Sheriff Hunt tells her to back off and leave him alone, but she persists in her harassment of him, eventually telling Maureen about Norman's past causing her to leave the motel in fear. With Maureen gone, Norman murders two guests overnight, one of which had just had sex with hired hand Duane Duke. After disposing of their bodies, Norman returns to find Spool's corpse missing. He soon finds Duke with the body, who tries to extort money out of Norman for keeping quiet. Norman and Duke enter into a violent fight, resulting in Duke subdued and thrown into Norman's car. Duke wakes up on the journey out of town, startling Norman causing him to lose control of the vehicle and plow into a swamp, where Duke eventually drowns.
Maureen meanwhile has realized her affections for Norman and comes back to Fairvale, where she and Norman share a tender moment on the staircase. Mother unexpectedly calls out to Norman, startling him, which accidentally knocks Maureen down the stairs to her death. In retribution, Norman ravages Spool's corpse with a knife as Tracy, who had found her way in, stands by watching in horror. Tracy reveals a little more to Norman about his past, and of Spool's role in his life, contradicting some of what Spool told him before he killed her. Spool was in love with John Bates, even though he was married to Norma, and one day kidnapped Norman out of spite. Norman was eventually returned to his parents, and Spool was institutionalized for severe mental health issues. Spool, as it would transpire, was not his mother.
Sheriff Hunt finds Norman dressed in his disguise, knife in hand, completely delirious. He arrests him where he is taken for evaluation, and incarcerated once again.
The Fran Ambrose Talk Show Incident [Psycho IV: The Beginning]
In 1990, radio talk show host Fran Ambrose hosted a night time special on matricide, inviting along various guests to the studio including a rehabilitated murderer and a psychiatrist, Dr Leo Richmond, to discuss the topic. Members of the public were invited to call in and talk freely about matricide. One particular caller, a gentleman identifying himself only as "Ed" called in the early hours to talk about his violent past, and apparent sexual relationship with his abusive mother.
Through an extensive conversation with Ed, Ambrose learned of a number of Ed's victims throughout the decades, and at various moments endured another persona as they spoke. Dr Richmond knew enough of Ed's stories to convince himself that this was actually Norman Bates, who had not long been released from custody for a second time. Richmond demanded that Bates' calls be traced and the police informed, but Ambrose refuses and encourages the show to go on.
Norman, or Ed as they know him, was married to a lady called Connie, and they were expecting a child together. He told Ambrose that Mother still bubbled close to the surface from time to time, and was telling him that the child would be just like him, a killer. He had considered killing Connie and the unborn child to stop the Bates bloodline, but had so far managed to control himself.
Norman ultimately gives in to Mother and takes Connie to the old Bates house to kill her. Connie manages to talk Norman down, convincing him that their child will be normal. In one last act of defiance, Norman torches the Bates house and leaves it to burn, proclaiming "I'm free."
- Norma Bates (49) - poisoned by arsenic in Ice Tea.
- Chet Rudolph (47) - poisoned by arsenic in Ice Tea .
- Holly (19) - stabbed to death with kitchen knife.
- Gloria (41) - strangled with rope and drowned in swamp.
- Marion Crane (27) - stabbed to death with kitchen knife in shower.
- Det. Milton Arbogast (51) - stabbed to death with kitchen knife.
- Emma Spool (65) - hit over the head with a shovel.
- Maureen Coyle (22) - head impaled.
- Patsy Boyle (29) - stabbed to death with kitchen knife.
- Duane Duke (28) - hit over the head.
- Red (21) - stabbed to death with kitchen knife.
Death & Legacy
The fate of Norman Bates is unknown, as the events of Psycho IV leave his story unfinished. Connie gives birth to their child, as his cries are heard over the final scene.
It would be tempting to suggest that this incarnation of Norman died in 1992, the same year that the actor Anthony Perkins passed away from pneumonia brought on by AIDS. This would have Norman's death take place approximately two years after the events of Psycho IV. However as this is not canon, it could be suggested that Norman is still living.
- The creation of Norman Bates was inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein.
- Norman Bates' incestuous relationship with his mother is an exaggerated interpretation of the human Oedipus Complex. The psychiatrist Sigmund Freud coined the term to describe the theoretical psychosexual desires of a child, whom during his development desires his mother's love. Freud theorized that this could manifest in both male and female infants, with the female iteration being the Electra Complex. Another fictional serial killer with a possible Oedipus Complex is Jason Voorhees.
- Norman's pattern of killing those who arouse him is plausible in the psychological development of sociopaths. Real life murderers such as Andrei Chikatilo were known to enact extreme forms of violence in order to achieve full sexual gratification.
- The first story and its characters were created by novelist Robert Bloch in the novel Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock adapted it into the film we all know and love.
- The character of Norman Bates, and the Psycho mythos, has been said to have inspired dozens of other horror films, and is considered as the benchmark for slasher movies. The character name of Sam Loomis in Halloween was taken directly from Psycho, with the character of Billy Loomis in Scream being inspired by both characters of the same name, and even quotes Bates in the final act of the film.
- When Norman kills Duane Duke in Psycho III, this is the only time that he is not seen acting up as "Mother."
- Anthony Perkins was diagnosed with HIV during the filming of Psycho IV. That aside, the director of the film described Perkins as one of the most difficult actors he has ever worked with.
- Perkins died from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1992.
- Robert Bloch wrote a sequel novel, Psycho II, which acted as a parody of Hollywood slasher films. In it, Norman escapes from custody and starts a killing spree on a film production of the original Psycho killings. The real life film producers of the film version did not like the idea, and chose to go in their own direction with the sequels. Interestingly, the film Scream 3 would explore a similar concept decades later, with a spree of killings occurring on a film set intended to emulate the environment of the original film's murders. The Scream series itself was, in part, inspired by Psycho, with references made to the films in dialogue.
- A 1987 TV pilot titled Bates Motel was produced following the release of Psycho III, which had Norman Bates [played by Kurt Paul] in a minor part alongside fellow psychopath Alex West. It was filmed in black and white in keeping with the style of the original film. The pilot was poorly received and any plans for syndication were abandoned. Of note, the story had Bates die whilst incarcerated, and the new protagonist West inherit the motel and house.
The Bates Motel [2013-present]
A second attempt to turn Psycho into a TV show has been highly successful with Bates Motel. Although a prequel by concept, the show retcons much of Bates' backstory and reimagines it in a modern setting, and features actor Freddie Highmore as a teenaged Norman and Vera Farmiga as Norma. Of note are the following differences:
- The timeline is set in modern day, with the first season occurring in 2013.
- Norma buys the hotel and adjacent house from a realtor, both of which are in a run-down state and in need of a lot of renovation. In the films however it is established that the Bates family, Norma at least, lived there for some time before Norma's new husband Chet decided to build the motel nearby.
- Norma in the show is, so far, a lot less caustic than the Norma seen in Psycho IV. She also appears to be aware, and more understanding, of Norman's regular trance-like psychotic episodes.
- Norman has an older brother in the show, however is depicted as an only child in the films.
- John Bates is seen to have died in a tragic fall in the show; in Psycho IV it is established that he was stung to death by bees.
- Norma and Norman's relationship in the show is apparently strengthened when he rescues her from an intruder who tries to rape her.
- Norman is seen to take a keen interest in taxidermy after befriending a stray dog which gets run over and killed by a car. This interest is likely an attempt to explain how he was able to preserve Norma's corpse for so long.