MovieChat Forums > Psycho (1960) Discussion > Two questions about Mrs. Bates

Two questions about Mrs. Bates


Why does Norman's mother become a skeleton? After Mrs. Bates dies, Norman hides her corpse and treats it with preserving chemicals, so her skin should remain intact. When Norman tries to kill Lila, is he simply using the feminine form of his name because he is pretending to be a woman, or is Norma Mrs. Bates' first name?

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It was revealed in later films that Norma was Mrs Bates real name.

As for the skeleton, Norman simply didn't do a very good job at preserving her and she decayed. It happens to real life taxidermists on occasion as well.

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Thank you, PaladinNJ. Perhaps the lack of work of the chemicals is symbolic of how Norman fails to maintain a life.

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It was revealed in later films that Norma was Mrs Bates real name.

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Funny that Hitchcock elected not to have anyone call her Norma Bates. Norman himself only calls her "my mother" or "mother." Sheriff Chambers calls her Mrs. Bates.

In Robert Bloch's novel, Bloch made hay of his name choices by having Sam talk to Lila about the psychiatrist's assessment of the names:

Norma Bates obviously wanted a "name hold" over her son, naming him Norman (who knows what Father Bates felt about that.)

But Norman's split personality, said the shrink(through Sam) was THREE people:

Norma Bates -- The Monster Mother and Murderer
Norman Bates -- a "small child of a little boy," under his mother's control(frefusing to grow up, marry, leave home -- or cleaning up her murders.)
"Normal' Bates (aha!) -- the well-adjusted young man whom Norman tried to show to the world(Marion, Arbogast, Sam and Lila).

Once one sees the word "normal" as the root of Norma and Norman, Psycho becomes a bit profound...if too "on the nose." Hitchcock wisely left all of this stuff out of the movie -- Simon Oakland's psychiatrist COULD have said all this, but he didn't.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT5YSqUj1Q8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GB9NxSahAc


I had thought either the Sheriff or the psychiatrist referred to her as Norma Bates, but apparently neither did. They call her Norman's mother or Mrs. Bates. But Psycho 2 definitely calls her Norma.

Both clips mention that Mother has been dead for ten years. The psychiatrist mentions that Norman treated the body to preserve it as best it could be, but his tone and what we saw show that it wasn't working that well. Considering that it had been ten years and Norman was not a professional mortician, there's no way that body would still be in good shape. And it wasn't like he could go online and learn how, or watch a youtube video on how to do it. At best he could get a book at the library, but I doubt that would help him much.

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I haven't watched PSYCHO in a few years, but I'm pretty sure the DVD I have does not include Norman screaming 'I'm Norma Bates!' as John Gavin tackles him. I think I've only seen that on YouTube.

And to be honest, I think it's hokey, and I prefer the scene without it. The psychiatrist explains it anyway. Without her first name, but who needs it, really?

As far as Mrs. Bates being a skeleton, there's probably a huge difference between stuffing birds and preserving an actual human body. And it's not like he's a professional. He himself describes taxidermy as a 'hobby'.

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MizhuB, Norman using his mother's name is in the movie, so it must be on your copy. You're right, preserving a whole body is more complicated than working with one to stuff it.

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I haven't watched PSYCHO in a few years, but I'm pretty sure the DVD I have does not include Norman screaming 'I'm Norma Bates!' as John Gavin tackles him. I think I've only seen that on YouTube.
@Miz. The 1999 DVD edition certainly had the remixed audio that pushed 'I'm Norma Bates' line front and center. I'm not sure about earlier DVDs, but on VHS, on TV and, on film going back to theatrical release (I first saw Psycho in a battered 16mm print just a few years before VHS took off) the consensus is that no one ever heard the line.

I explored this (and the line's development from Bloch's novel through Stefano's script and then Hitch's completed scene) in a blog post long ago:
https://tinyurl.com/y6ser8r3
In that post I surmise that the change to DVD was the audio-remix watershed, but your remark suggests that early DVDs may be before that watershed too.

Note that the 1999 DVD still had lots of crud all over its images:
https://tinyurl.com/y5jvezsu
but it at least had the aspect ratio & light levels broadly right (lots of VHS editions had been very dark and were often in unmatted 4:3 which disclosed 'passing car' errors among others).

It was a long hard road to the pristine restored Psycho we enjoy on streaming and Blu-ray today, and for better or worse the 1990s sound remix has stuck.

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I explored this (and the line's development from Bloch's novel through Stefano's script and then Hitch's completed scene) in a blog post long ago:
https://tinyurl.com/y6ser8r3
In that post I surmise that the change to DVD was the audio-remix watershed, but your remark suggests that early DVDs may be before that watershed too.

Note that the 1999 DVD still had lots of crud all over its images:
https://tinyurl.com/y5jvezsu
but it at least had the aspect ratio & light levels broadly right (lots of VHS editions had been very dark and were often in unmatted 4:3 which disclosed 'passing car' errors among others).

It was a long hard road to the pristine restored Psycho we enjoy on streaming and Blu-ray today, and for better or worse the 1990s sound remix has stuck.

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What's fascinating to me about this is the idea that -- way back in 1960 -- Hitchcock did have one of his "Mrs. Bates" vocalists (female Virginia Gregg ? Male Paul Jasmin?) record that line ("I'mmmmm...Norma Bates!") but evidently drowned it out under Herrmann's screeching violins. No one heard it. Now it IS front and center, but perhaps not as Hitchcock originally intended(and its not REALLY front and center, it sounds more like a guttural yell than a line, you have to listen to hear "Norma Bates").

Of similar fascination, on the Psycho special edition DVD in a special extras section, we are shown both the shower murder AND the fruit cellar reveal WITHOUT Herrmann's screeching strings, and boy are they different. Less "jump out of your seat" scary. More brutal in the shower(you can hear Leigh beg "no!" and then sigh and breathe heavily in final death throes), more wacky in the fruit cellar(all you CAN hear is "I'mmm Norma Bates!) I wish that they had done that with the Arbogast murder, too. Without the screeching violins, I doubt that Mrs. Bates run out of her room would have been nearly as scream-worthy.

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Thank you, Sandman81.

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Okay, this post is not going to be for the squeamish.

Because Norman's goal was to preserve his mother's corpse intact and keep it at home, he was not able to use the methods he used in taxidermy, or traditional methods of mummification or embalming. In taxidermy you take off the animal's skin and the other trophy parts such as horns, discard the rest of the animal, you put the hide on an animal-shaped frame, and add fake glass eyes to make it look lifelike. He couldn't used the traditional methods of mummification, because that involves removing all the squishy organs, and wrapping the corpse in chemical-soaked cloths, he wanted the corpse uncovered and intact. Embalming was probably his best bet, but he couldn't ask for help and didn't have the proper equipment, and may not have been able to get ahold of the right chemicals in time, I believe you need a license to handle some of them.

I think he did a passable job, considering that he had nothing to work with but library books, whatever equipment he had lying around the house, and an extremely limited budget! After ten years, "Mother" wasn't entirely skeletonized, the body was intact, and still had some desiccated flesh on it.

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My goodness, that is revolting! I'm referring to the procedures, though, not you. This is still the most detailed answer. Thank you for it and the warning, Otter.

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Yup, it sure is a revolting line of inquiry, and you're welcome.

And if anyone has a ghoulish sense of humor, try to imagine how the production design meetings that led to the creation of "Mrs. Bates" went!

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Since the matter is so horrifying in the movie and the corpse looks realistic, I've never even thought about how Mrs. Bates is nothing but a prop. Now that you put it in these terms, it sounds funny. Thank you for the laugh.

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And if anyone has a ghoulish sense of humor, try to imagine how the production design meetings that led to the creation of "Mrs. Bates" went!

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Hitchcock actually spent time and money requesting researchers at Stanford University to give him detailed drawings of what a corpse face would look like after ten years and amateur taxidermy techniques. Drawings were reviewed.

There is also a story that I think might be apocryphal about Hitchcock testing VARIOUS versions of Mrs. Bates skull face by putting them out successively to surprise scare Janet Leigh. Ostensibly, the skull face that got the biggest scream from Janet Leigh is the one we see in movie. But I just can't believe this story. "Movie making hype" is the original "fake news."

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The "revolting" nature of considering what Norman Bates had to actually DO to try to preserve his mother is, I think, very key to how that movie, despite having only two major scenes of bloody violence, was somehow just the most horrible story ever told in movies to date. The whole IDEA of how Norman , in trying to lovingly "keep his Mother," actually defiled her -- is bedrock horror to me. Not to mention all those years he spent sleeping in his room while "Mother" slept in hers: a decaying corpse.

Honestly, as a concept, its even worse than the horrible murders.

I've always liked this line from Hitchcock in his 1960 trailer, pointing at the house:

"And IN this house...the most dire, horrible events took place."

No kidding, Hitch. The murder of Arbogast. The murders of Mother and her lover. But also -- the gutting, stuffing, and poor preserving of Norma Bates.

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Yeah, she looked more mummified than anything else but we only see her face and for a short time. Who knows what shape the rest of the corpse is in.

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I just saw this. I agree that Norman would not be able to embalm the body and think this is the idea of adding more horror as we go over what happened. However, it wasn't ten years later. I'm pretty sure that the psychiatrist implies Norman stole the body before the burial and a weighted coffin was buried. He would be seventeen at the time (my bad saying he was fifteen earlier to ecarle), so didn't have the skills of an adult. I have seen a dead embalmed body as most of us have and a dead body prepared for cremation.

You don't want to see a dead body that's been dead for a week or so, but this is probably what Norman ended up with. IOW, Mother would have been his first taxidermy job. Mwahahaha.

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I want to know how her dead body turns around all by itself!

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This is a fair joke, HodWatt, even though we know that Lila touching Mrs. Bates' shoulder is what makes the chair turn. That automatically makes the corpse move.

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Mother was "light as a feather."

There's a "gaffe" here, maybe, that nobody really saw because they were in terror(maybe with their eyes closed as Lila approached mother.)

Its possible to believe Mother could turn around in a rocking chair, but she is not IN a rocking chair. A medium shot from Lila's POV shows the chair is stationary with four legs.

But maybe it was a rotating office chair?

(In real life, Mother was put on a camera mount and a guy on the floor moved her around.)

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Correct, ecarle, the chair has a seat that can spin even though its legs can't. Our piano seat is like that. Rocking chairs don't revolve, those only move back and forth. You have a good observation.

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I agree with the assessments here, but it was artist's license to use a shriveled skull (not a skeleton). The face may not have been as shocking if she was preserved. She has no eyes and we are looking into her skull. It was also 1960 and it could be the censors would not allow a stuffed person's face on the screen nor a partially decomposed one. Norma is Mrs. Bates real name. Norman is actually Norma or Mrs. Bates when he's dressed up. He kept giving her more and more of his life to her.

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Thank you, jasonbourne. Your notes are in depth. Not only would the fun, stunning element of Mrs. Bates disappear if she were not turning in to a skeleton, but her face would be perturbing if it were fully preserved on a corpse. You think that Norman is pushed in to permanently acting like his mother through Marion's murder because he is more strongly affected by the young woman than most of the others whom he has met. That is a logical musing, and would account for the wild way that Norman declares himself to be 'Norma'.

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I think we agree, but Norman was pushed into permanently becoming his mother due because of the psychological conflict of two personalities sharing the same body. The stronger personality won. The weird part of this is Norman is a gentle man and dutiful son. However, this trait of his makes him give more and more of his life to her and he ends up not being there anymore. The mother is psycho, vicious, cunning, and all too willing to take over his son's body and accuse him of the murders of Marion and Arbogast. It's really sick and creepy the way it turned out in the end.

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