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The character of Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s “Psycho” was inspired by the real-life psychopath Ed Gein

Domagoj Valjak

Aside from being a seminal classic of 20th-century cinema and one of the best thriller movies of all time, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is a chilling on-screen representation of psychopathy.

Norman Bates, the main character of the movie played by Anthony Perkins, is a man scarred by the demented ways of his possessive and manipulative mother. Even after his mother died, she continued to live in Bates’ mind through a crippling psychosis: her sinister presence kept him from developing a meaningful relationship with any woman in his life.

Anthony Perkins with Charmian Carr in “Evening Primrose”, 1966.

Anthony Perkins with Charmian Carr in “Evening Primrose”, 1966.

“Psycho” was based on the novel of the same name written by Robert Bloch. Although the character of Norman Bates seems far too crazy to be inspired by a real person, Bates’ personality was loosely based on the notorious Wisconsin murderer and grave robber Ed Gein.

Gein committed his crimes around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, and earned the nickname “The Mad Butcher of Plainfield”. Over the course of ten years, Gein killed two women and exhumed dozens of bodies from several local graveyards. He decorated his house with a variety of items made from the bones and skin of the dead.

Police photo of Ed Gein from 1957. Photo Credit

Police photo of Ed Gein from 1957. Photo Credit

In 1968, 11 years after he was apprehended, Gein was found guilty but legally insane, and remanded to psychiatric institutions. He died at the Mendota Mental Health Institute in 1984, aged 77.

Edward Hopper’s The House by the Railroad used as inspiration for the look of the Bates house.

Edward Hopper’s The House by the Railroad used as inspiration for the look of the Bates house.

The modus operandi and the life circumstances of Norman Bates strikingly resemble that of Ed Gein. Both Gein and Bates were solitary murderers in isolated rural locations.

They both committed their crimes after the deaths of their domineering mothers. Another thing that connected them is the morbid obsession with their mothers: the houses of both murderers contained sealed-off rooms that were kept as shrines to their dead mothers, and both murderers enjoyed wearing women’s clothes.

The ‘Psycho’ set on the Universal lot, featuring a Ford Custom 300 similar to that driven by Janet Leigh in the film.

The ‘Psycho’ set on the Universal lot, featuring a Ford Custom 300 similar to that driven by Janet Leigh in the film.

However, unlike Bates, Gein is not strictly considered a serial killer, as he was charged with murder only twice and the rest of his crimes were limited to body snatching, defiling corpses and desecration of graves.

Read another story from us: The dark side of the genius: Hitchcock was disturbingly obsessed with Tippi Hedren

On the other hand, throughout all installments of the franchise that followed the original “Psycho”, Norman Bates’ kill count numbers approximately 20 victims.