Young adults may enjoy scary movies because they let
us them indulge our "traditional gender roles".
With regard to age, there's a suggestion that enjoyment rises through childhood, peaks in adolescence and then gradually fades with age. Related to this is the 'snuggle theory' - the idea that viewing horror films may be a rite of passage for young people, providing them with an opportunity to fulfil their traditional gender roles. A paper from the late 1980s by Dolf Zillmann, Norbert Mundorf and others found that male undergrads paired with a female partner (unbeknown to them, a research assistant), enjoyed a 14-minute clip from Friday the 13th Part III almost twice as much if she showed distress during the film. Female undergrads, by contrast, said they enjoyed the film more if their male companion appeared calm and unmoved. Moreover, men who were initially considered unattractive were later judged more appealing if they displayed courage during the film viewing. 'Scary movies and monsters are just the ticket for girls to scream and hold on to a date for dear life and for the date (male or female) to be there to reassure, protect, defend and, if need be, destroy the monster,' says Fischoff. 'Both are playing gender roles prescribed by a culture.'
It's not mere "culture" that leads men to defend women, but you get the idea.
(P.S., Am I no longer a "young adult"?)
(HT: Alex Tabarrok.)