During a Friday afternoon tryst in a Phoenix hotel, real-estate secretary Marion Crane and her boyfriend Sam Loomis discuss their inability to get married because of Sam’s debts. Marion returns to work, steals a cash payment of $40,000 entrusted to her for deposit and drives to Sam’s home in Fairvale, California. En route, Marion hurriedly trades her car, arousing suspicion from both the car dealer and a California Highway Patrol officer.
Marion stops for the night at the Bates Motel, located off the main highway, and hides the stolen money inside a newspaper. Proprietor Norman Bates descends from a large house overlooking the motel, registers Marion under an assumed name, and invites her to dine with him. After Norman returns to his house, Marion overhears Norman arguing with his mother about Marion’s presence. Norman returns with a light meal and apologizes for his mother’s outbursts. Norman discusses his hobby as a taxidermist, his mother’s “illness” and how people have a “private trap” they want to escape. Marion decides to drive back to Phoenix in the morning and return the stolen money. As Marion showers, a shadowy figure appears and stabs her to death. Soon afterward, Norman’s anguished voice is heard from the house yelling “Mother! Oh God, Mother! Blood! Blood!” Norman cleans up the murder scene, puts Marion’s body, belongings and the hidden cash in her car, and sinks it in a swamp.
Marion’s sister Lila arrives in Fairvale a week later, tells Sam about the theft, and demands to know her whereabouts. He denies knowing anything about her disappearance. A private investigator named Arbogast approaches them, saying that he has been hired to retrieve the money. Arbogast learns that Marion spent a night at the Bates Motel. He questions Norman, whose nervous behavior and inconsistent answers arouse his suspicion. When Arbogast learns that Marion had spoken to Norman’s mother, Arbogast asks to speak to her, but Norman refuses to allow it. Arbogast updates Sam and Lila about his search, and promises to phone again in an hour. After he enters the Bates home in search of Norman’s mother, a shadowy figure emerges from the bedroom and stabs him to death.
When Lila and Sam do not hear from Arbogast, Sam visits the motel. He sees a figure in the house whom he assumes is Norman’s mother. Lila and Sam alert the local sheriff, who tells them that Norman’s mother died in a murder-suicide ten years earlier. The sheriff suggests that Arbogast lied to Sam and Lila so he could pursue Marion and the money. Convinced that something happened to Arbogast, Lila and Sam drive to the motel. Sam distracts Norman in the office while Lila sneaks into the house. Suspicious, Norman becomes agitated and knocks Sam unconscious. As he goes to the house, Lila hides in the fruit cellar where she discovers the mother’s mummified body. She screams, and Norman, wearing his mother’s clothes and a wig, enters the cellar and tries to stab her. Sam appears and subdues him.
At the police station, a psychiatrist explains that a jealous Norman murdered his mother and her lover ten years earlier. Norman mummified his mother’s corpse and began treating it as if she were still alive. He recreated his mother in his mind as an alternate personality, as jealous and possessive towards Norman as he felt about his mother. When Norman is attracted to a woman, “Mother” takes over: He had murdered two other young women before Marion, and Arbogast was killed to hide “his mother’s” crime. The psychiatrist concludes “Mother” has now completely taken over Norman’s personality. Norman sits in a jail cell and hears his mother saying that the murders were all his doing. Marion’s car is retrieved from the swamp.
A classic horror that is still referenced today. There was even a spin off show called the Bates Hotel that was based off the film.